lessons learned from Leaving Neverland
*note: the following blog discusses sensitive and graphic content.
Leaving Neverland is the dramatic account by two adult males (Wade Robson and James Safechuck) of their sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by Michael Jackson. They described a relationship with Jackson that began in friendship when they were 7 and 9 years old, but resulted in emotional manipulation and sexual exploitation.
These stories are graphic and disturbing. After attempting anal intercourse with one of the boys, Jackson reportedly called the boy’s home later that day. He didn’t inquire about the child’s welfare, but rather advised him to throw away his bloody underwear so as to escape detection.
I’ve spent many years working with kids who have been sexually abused, so I have a frame of reference to compare these stories with those of hundreds of other victims. I have no idea if their stories are fabrications for fame or an honest depiction of two men’s journey of recovery.
I do know this. Their narratives, whether fiction or fact, are consistent with everything I know about the dynamics of sexual abuse. The seduction or grooming process described by these men is perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of sexual abuse. These boys didn’t feel abused. They felt special.
The parents, particularly the moms, have been subjected to intense scrutiny and censure. Why would any parent allow their young boys to sleep in the same bed with an adult male? I think others are being too harsh on these mothers. The same grooming process allegedly used by Jackson with these boys was also used on the parents.
I’ve worked with so many parents who felt tremendous guilt at allowing their children to be sexually abused by trusted friends and relatives. The fact that abuse is usually perpetrated by people we know makes it even more difficult to prevent.
Our kids need the love and friendship of adults other than their parents. They need teachers to show a special interest in them. They need coaches who will help develop their talents. They need rabbis and priests to offer them guidance, and scout leaders to take them on camping trips.
Parents watching this documentary will have their greatest fears intensified, becoming even more suspicious of any adult who shows interest in their kids. I’ve had many conversations with adult friends who are now more cautious about volunteering to help out with children, fearful that they may be viewed as potential molesters.
Sexual abuse occurs within a veil of secrecy. I encourage any youth organization to engage kids, parents, and youth workers in an explicit discussion about safety and touching. This is the best way to protect kids while continuing to foster relationships with caring adults.