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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Opinion

“Leaving Neverland” will make your stomach turn


Michael Jackson with James Safechuck in 1988. Safechuck and Jackson first met when filming a Pepsi commercial together. | Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/user: Alan Light

Last month HBO released “Leaving Neverland,” a two-part documentary that focuses on two men’s detailed allegations of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Michael Jackson.

The documentary is bone-chilling and graphic, but equally compelling as Wade Robson and James Safechuck provide accounts of their experiences with Jackson.

Controversy over the validity of these accusations has arisen, with many coming forward to defend the pop star’s reputation. Jackson’s estate called it a “posthumous character assassination.”

Regardless of whether or not you believe the allegations, the documentary will leave you battered and heartbroken. It will make you second-guess your assumptions of people and think about how the chase of fame and riches will make one do inconceivable things. 

Robson and Safechuck allegations

Wade Robson is an Australian dancer who has choreographed routines with the likes of NSYNC and Britney Spears. At five years old, he won a dance competition that allowed him to meet his idol, Michael Jackson.

The pair instantly became “friends.” Jackson and Robson would call each other daily, with some conversations lasting up to six or seven hours. Two years after their initial meeting, they reunited again at Jackson’s California ranch, Neverland. 

According to the documentary, it was here that Robson alleges the abuse began, a gradual progression from fondling each other’s genitals to showering together to performing oral sex. Over the course of his stay at the ranch, Jackson ensured Robson that God brought them together and performing sexual acts was how they showed their appreciation and love for one another. 

The manipulation didn’t stop there, as Jackson would tell Robson that if he were to tell anyone what they were doing, they would both go to prison and never be able to see each other again.

These accounts mirror those of James Safechuck, who alleges Jackson began abusing him at the age of 10. The same pattern of emotional seduction, which quickly became sexual, follows the one Robson experienced.

At the time, Robson’s and Safechuck’s families had no idea what was going on. They were starstruck by Jackson, who would shower them with gifts. Jackson gave them all-inclusive trips, cars and other luxury items to help mask the horrors of their children’s abuse — and it worked.

Safechuck’s mother, Stephanie,  travelled with her son while touring with Jackson. At the beginning of the tour, Jackson would place her in a room directly next to her own. But as the tour progressed her room got further and further from Jackson’s.

Stephanie would eavesdrop from outside Jackson’s hotel room to hear what the two were doing, but never heard anything malicious or out of the ordinary.

Besides, the families knew that one of the biggest pop stars the world has ever seen would do wonders for their children’s careers. At least, that’s what Jackson promised them.

As the boys grew older, Jackson lost interest and replaced them with newer, younger boys. The calls and the gifts stopped coming, and Jackson lost contact for years at a time.

Other allegations

Despite the rejection and heartbreak experienced by Robson and Safechuck, the two boys came to defend Jackson in 1993 when the singer was accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old child, Jordan Chandler. 

Chandler’s relationship with Jackson started when he approached the singer in a restaurant for an autograph. The two met again eight years later at a Rent-a-Wreck parking lot and exchanged numbers. This soon turned into an invitation to Neverland where Jackson was accused of sexually assaulting Chandler.

During the trial, both Safechuck and Robson gave testimony in Jackson’s defense. Ultimately, the case was settled out of court for over $20 million.

Their testimony is one of the reasons people believe Robson and Safechuck are lying. But the stigma against victims of abuse, especially male victims, would deter even the strongest of survivors from coming forward.

Male abuse survivors may not report what has happened to them due to “being unaware that what happened to them was a crime, fear of not being believed and fears that their sexuality could become the focus of any investigation,” according to a report from the Greater London Authority.

Jackson psychologically manipulated the boys into believing they would be in trouble if anyone ever found out. It’s plausible that the boys were scared to tell anybody anything, not only because of the threatened jail time but because they would never get to see their idol again.    

No one will ever know whether the accusations against Jackson are true, but what is true is Jackson slept in the same bed as children. This was confirmed during Chandler’s case against Jackson in 1993. 

One day of sharing a bed with a minor is one too many. These children became the victims of a predatory man.

These predatory tendencies that dominated Jackson’s later life may have been reinforced by his own childhood abuse. This trauma, however, does not justify the abuse he may have perpetrated. 

Joe Jackson — Michael Jackson’s father — was not exactly the father of the year. Joe would make his children rehearse for five hours a day after school and wouldn’t let them play with other children. If the Jackson children made an error in their dance routines, Joe would make them pick a branch from a tree for him to beat them with.

Joe was emotionally and physically abusive, and this mistreatment probably played a significant role in Jackson’s later abusive behavior.

Children tend to retain an inordinate amount of information as their minds are developing. Every experience serves as a stepping stone, bridging synapses to create their perception of the world around them. Abusing a child can have long-lasting effects on emotional development and can scar their life permanently.

No matter how you choose to dissect the Jackson allegations, the documentary will leave you feeling uneasy. “Leaving Neverland” doesn’t have a happy ending, so if you’re in the mood to depreciate your overall happiness, by all means, tune in.

Assistant Opinion Editor Anthony Cianciulli is a broadcast journalism senior and can be reached at [email protected]

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