Updated: Mar 25, 2019
Having been born in the very early 1980’s, my childhood and adolescent pop culture consumption was chockfull of the music and images of Michael Jackson. My friends and I knew all the songs and mangled all the dance moves (a tradition that carried on well into adulthood and was usually how ended most inebriated nights out together in somebody’s lounge room). We all grew up mesmerised by Michael Jackson and his scale of stardom has not been reached by any other pop star since.
But as the years went by and the allegations kept surfacing (and his face kept changing), my thoughts began to skew and I saw there was a much darker side to this man, his lost childhood and his wild eccentricities than he was urging us to believe.
Like many people around the world, I sat down to watch the HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland, intrigued by what lay ahead but not anticipating any major new developments. I had preconceived notions about what would be said, old ground that would be covered and assumed I would be left with the same sense of confusion and muddied thoughts as I have in the past.
I could not have been more wrong. This series was like a lightning bolt and changed everything in an instant. It is beautifully filmed, stripped back of any tabloid sensationalism and sensitively captures the progression and impact of child abuse over a lifetime.
The two men at the centre of the film, Wade Robson and James Safechuck gave raw and unflinching accounts of their experiences with Michael Jackson, from the adulation and idolisation to the most graphic and intimate details of their repeated sexual encounters with him.
Their re-telling of events was painful, shocking and filled with the entirely unnerving realities of the grooming and seduction that occurs in child abuse.
While aware that grooming in child abuse often involves the parents and often the entire family, I was still incredibly stunned by the choices of the mothers depicted in the film. For Joy Robson to allow her 7 year old son to sleep alone in the bed with Michael Jackson, just four hours after meeting and staggeringly, to then leave him in the care of Jackson for almost a week while the family holidayed at the Grand Canyon, is unconscionable.
As a parent myself, this is unthinkable. There are ZERO circumstances in which I would leave my 7 year old child in the care of any celebrity, stranger or even someone I vaguely know, after such a short period of time. Or any period of time. Shocking, horrifying and unforgivable.
These parents were blinded by the fame, the fortune and the proximity to a mega star that their innocent young children gave them unprecedented access to. But the simple fact is, they did not protect their children. And they will most likely feel responsible for this for the rest of their lives. As they bloody well should.
But this systematic brainwashing and grooming of entire families at the hand of a paedophile is nothing new. The recently released Netflix documentary Abducted In Plain Sight, sheds light on the Broberg family who fell victim to the same calculated manoeuvres of a child abuser, Robert Berchtold, intent on gaining access to their daughter in the 1970’s. They fell for his charms and tricks not once but repeatedly, and turned a blind eye to the shockingly public knowledge that their daughter was abducted and molested by this man.
The similarities between Berchtold and Jackson’s manipulation of the entire family, to get to the desired child are disturbing. But Leaving Neverland is not really about Michael Jackson. It is an absolute master class in the progression of realisation that occurs in children who have been abused.
As demonstrated in the film, it is largely characteristic that children who have been abused, don’t even recognise it as abuse until much later in life. They don’t have the language, experience or cognitive function to process what is happening to them, particularly because of the many layers of manipulation and seduction that occurs on so many levels.
This delicate and sensitive portrayal of the psychological unravelling of the two victims, Robson and Safechuck as they progressed through their development, is an absolute masterpiece. Director, Dan Reed has done an exceptional job of highlighting the subtleties and quiet trauma that so often lies dormant for some time, in children who have been abused in this way.
This is probably one of the most important pieces of film making or television that has been made to date and should be essential viewing for all parents. We are entirely responsibly for keeping our children safe and in order to do that, we need to be aware of the dangers of grooming and the lengths that a child abuser will go to, to satisfy their own needs.
It is not always celebrities and people in power we need to be discerning of, but often those closest to us that we would never identify in this way. Leaving Neverland leaves no doubt in the mind of any rational person, that these terrible things can and do happen right before our very eyes. And we need to do all that we can to ensure it doesn’t happen to our children.
*Runs and hides from crazed MJ mega-fans*