In the early 90’s allegations of sexual abuse encircled the ‘King of Pop’ Michael Jackson.
Last week Channel 4 in the UK aired ‘Leaving Neverland – Michael and Me’, detailing the accounts of two of men (Wade Robson and James Safechuck) who were [allegedly] sexually abused by Michael Jackson as children. It was one of the rawest non-fiction accounts of the confusion and complexity of childhood sexual abuse that I have witnessed on main stream media. As a musician, as a Michael Jackson fan and also someone who has experienced sexual abuse in childhood first hand, my thoughts and feelings have been a tumult to say the least. I wrote this over a week ago. I needed to process. The one thing I keep coming back to is this:
The high-profile nature of this case gives us a unique opportunity to shed light on an issue that is crying out for intelligent discussion. Child sexual abuse and its consequences are not going away by ignoring the issue. It’s not, as some have suggested, about deleting songs, 10-year court cases or any of the other bulls**t that is out there conflating the issue. Whether you love or hate Michael Jackson this isn't about his music, the ‘moonwalk’. It is about understanding why this insidiousness is being inflicted upon children. We need to be engaging in intelligent conversation around this issue.
It is my honest hope that it is never again shrouded in secrecy. A secrecy that for those on the receiving end, is as painful as the abuse itself.
'Paedophile' is a truly inflammatory word and rightfully so, no one wants to think that anyone they know could exhibit this behaviour and yet some statistics suggest that the rate of children in the UK who experience sexual abuse and do not report it is as high as one three (Radford, L. et al. (2011) Child abuse and neglect in the UK today. London: NSPCC).
To watch this documentary, you are struck with a vast sense of bewilderment. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who are truly brave men for speaking out so very publicly about a topic that many recoil at the very thought of. To put it in perspective, at 6 years old you are learning to write your name and tell the time. You don’t have money, or a car to drive away in. You have no frame of reference for the kinds of feelings that these developmentally inappropriate sexual interactions provoke. You like and hate it equally, you are told to ‘never tell’. You are threatened with violence jail or death for yourself or your loved ones if you do. You are isolated, you become trapped in these feelings, you have no way of processing them. No one to process them with (outside of your abuser/s). You are alone with these emotions.
You act out, become an addict, sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling. You starve yourself, vomit, overeat, cut yourself, overwork, can’t sleep, sleep all the time you are anxious and depressed, you struggle to maintain relationships, struggle with feeling too much followed by bouts of being unable to feel at all and every psychologist you see throws every DSM diagnoses ever printed at you. ‘Oh, you have bi-polar, PTSD, borderline personality’, the list goes on. No-one asks why. If only you could trust someone, anyone enough to talk.
On the other hand, how can we remove the veil of secrecy around those who commit these acts. How do we encourage a dialectic around this issue? The day after 'Leaving Neverland' aired ‘Psychology Today’ published an article that referred to the ‘psychological makeup of an adult who engages in abusive and illegal sexual behaviour with children’ as a form of ‘Psychopathy’ (Seth Meyers Psy.D.). These labels may contribute to the problem, encouraging those who have these impulses to run from the truth of their issues rather than seeking help.
Ultimately, this documentary leaves us with more questions than answers. As brilliant a place as any to start. If we don’t speak about it, we continue to force our children to deal with it all alone. It is not their burden to bear, as adult humans we need to be brave enough to lead the conversation.
It starts here and now with each of is. It is Michael Jackson himself who can be quoted thus ‘if you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make a change’. An irony that is not lost on a single one of us.
Thanks for reading, it’s a truly important issue.
Leave a comment, share, get people talking – even if its uncomfortable – it’s entirely necessary.
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