“For me, this moment transcends Michael Jackson. It is much bigger than any one person. This is a moment in time that allows us to see this societal corruption.” -Oprah Winfrey, during her hour-long special about “Leaving Neverland”
As I did with the Lorena Bobbitt documentary I write about here… I hesitated watching “Leaving Neverland”. “Leaving” is the HBO Documentary on two men who alleged Michael Jackson sexually abused them. (Man, do I hate that word “allege” in this context, but my journalism background teaches me that we cannot assume.)
I knew two things when the documentary was released. One, I had to watch it. Two, watching it would be extremely difficult.
My history is so much different from that of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, Jackson’s accusers. They found themselves in the world of the biggest superstar our generation has ever known. They were also caught up the adoration they felt they got from someone so incredibly adored.
None of my three abusers held any status close to Jackson’s. I could not relate to that at all.
However, several experiences they had are so much more universal. They are experiences to which most survivors can relate.
As Oprah points out in the quote I included above here, I feel like this documentary might shed light on how childhood sexual abuse victims respond. Those who aren’t victims would gain knowledge, and those who are might find an easier path to healing because of that understanding.
I am not here to tell people what to take away from “Neverland”. Obviously, that is not my place. I did want to pull out some of those shared experiences most victims feel.
Fear: Do not underestimate the power of fear. Imagine a child filled with fear of harm, fear of blame, fear of disappointing those he or she loves. Jackson’s victims had a fear of losing Michael’s love. They were wrapped up inside a world they did not want to lose. More so, though, they speak of a fear Michael allegedly instilled in them of being caught and getting punished. My own fear at the age of 4 years old was that my mom would need to find someone else to care for me. She had so many obstacles to cross in order to care for me already. I was also afraid my abuser’s wife would beat me. I was afraid I would leave my abuser’s daughter alone to endure abuse alone. (I did do that, and still feel guilt.) I was afraid I would be in big trouble. Fear controlled me. Every time my abuser’s wife left for the store, his daughter and I would run for the best hiding place, fearful that we would be the one found that day. Remind you, I was ages 4 to 9 years old. The boys in this documentary were 7 to 14 years old. Look at children you know in those age ranges. Just imagine.
Shame: Oh, man, the shame. If an abuser is good, he or she will put his or her shame squarely on a child. Jackson allegedly told the boys others would think they were doing something wrong. Others would not understand their love. I have to be honest, I don’t remember if my first abuser said any one thing to make me feel shame. I do know I felt it. My second abuser cried a lot. So, his shame was a tool to make me feel bad for him. My third most definitely used shame. He told me I was a slut, and that is why he did it.
No real understanding of what love is: When a child is abused at such a young age, he or she does not have this understanding. Of course, they know love and feel it, but an adult can manipulate a child into thinking many different things are love. Kids believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny because we tell them it is true. Imagine trusting an adult (because most victim’s know their abuser), and being told what they are doing to you is right even if others think it is wrong. My first abuser made his daughter and me feel like he just needed to do it. We felt like it had to be done. We were so young and impressionable. Jackson’s accusers have a slightly different manipulation going on. What they describe goes back to what I didn’t experience, which is their abuser was a shining superstar and they wanted his love. Again, they did not know what love was at such young ages. They are still working on what that is. I have been a sexual abuse victim for 44 of my 48 years. I only have a few memories of not being one. Our perspective is vastly different from those not abused as children.
Having kids will slap a survivor into reality: I remember the years when I firmly believed I did not want kids. I just didn’t want to bring kids into the world I lived. Kids=abuse victims However, meeting my husband changed my view on having children. I was adamant, though, that I did not want girls. No way was I going to subject sweet, innocent girls to what I went through as a child. Then, the doctor told me I was having a girl. Not once, but two different times! I truly cannot describe the love that welled up and still exists inside me for my girls. I cannot imagine our lives any other way. They completed my fractured heart. Also, they changed my perspective on being a victim. I am overprotective and pretty annoying to them and to other parents. I don’t think that is too surprising or unusual. What is surprising for me is that perspective. Looking at them at the ages I was each time I was abused changed how I felt about my younger self. When my oldest turned 4 years old, my heart stopped often. I would look at her and think: How could someone do that to someone her size? Before my girls, I imagined myself bigger, and less innocent, and uglier. Seeing them reminded me of how little I was each time. My oldest is around the age when I got raped by a 21-year old. There is no way I could look at her and think it was her fault! I know better. So, why would I blame myself? I was able to see myself as a child, not just a victim. Here are some pictures of how old I was AFTER the abuse started. The first picture and my birthday party with Mickey are from a year after it started. The second and last one are 3 years after it started.
Of course, I was not in any room with Michael Jackson and any kid. I was never even close to Jackson. I cannot claim Robson and Safechuck’s stories are true.
What I can tell you is that their reasoning for not coming forward earlier, when they had multiple chances, is so intensely true for many survivors. You can try to dismiss them because they lied under oath, or because they have had decades to talk, but you would be wrong. The only reason to dismiss them is if you had proof they were lying. I’m sorry, lying about it in the past is not proof. Most of us lied for decades before we told the truth.
We, as a society, are just starting to put cracks in the archaic belief that if you don’t speak up right away or when asked, it just didn’t happen. I hope survivors continue to share their stories so we can break that belief to pieces… give survivors the understanding they deserve. Heck, maybe we can put ALL the shame on the attackers.
With this documentary, society is starting to learn that childhood abuse comes with complications adults may not believe until they hear these stories. Children are so easily manipulated and persuaded. If any of my three abusers would try it today, I would kick them in the balls. I would tell everyone what happened. I… right now… am not a 4-year-old. I already have experience in this. My perspective is different.
I would go into the money angle with these two men, but I really want to focus on Oprah’s point at the top. “Neverland” is about more than just Michael Jackson. It is another step toward pulling back the evil curtain that keeps victims/survivors alone and in the dark far too long.