Its hard to watch.
Four hours of interviews detailing the systematic grooming, seduction and sexual exploitation of two young boys.
Wade Robson was 7 and James Safechuck 10 when they first met Michael Jackson. Robson had won a dance competition and Safechuck met MJ when they both starred in a Pepsi commercial.
Like many who have suffered child sexual abuse (CSA) these two men have been left with a powerful legacy.
The difficult, densely tangled and complex melange of feelings that sits inside them alongside memories of the abuse includes feelings of worthlessness, shame and guilt - and love. Both have had therapy to try to unravel the impact of their lost childhoods.
They loved their abuser.
They would have done anything for him.
Michael Jackson made sure that these vulnerable young boys didn’t tell anyone about what went on behind the closed doors of his bedroom suite.
They were scared to talk about the abuse because they didn’t want their hero to go to jail.
“The first thing that came to mind, for me, was everything Michael started saying to me when I was seven. That if anyone found out we were doing these sorts of things, these sexual things, that he and I would go to jail for the rest of our lives. It was terrifying.” (Robson)
MJ had an unprecedented amount of resources to throw at the boys and their families and the emotional power to silence them when it suited him.
Private jets, gifts and bribes, backstage passes, and first class trips. And back at Michael’s home, an endless supply of toys, games, videos and candy. Neverland was a theme park for children - and sexual abuse. Without the Neverland Ranch, its unlikely that MJ would have been able to carry out such systematic seduction and abuse.
The boy’s families, like the boys themselves, were star struck, suddenly escalated into the inner circle of a superstar’s world.
Michael Jackson’s global aura was part of the seduction.
MJ campaigned hard to win over the parents (and siblings) so that they would feel comfortable leaving their child with him. When the scandal started to break and he was facing a criminal trial, Michael Jackson came back into the boys lives, pressuring them and their families with faxes, phone calls, gifts and money.
For Robson and Safechuck, becoming fathers allowed them to feel empathy for the vulnerable children they once were.
“I think the abuse symptoms intensify when you have kids,” Safechuck says. “You see how innocent kids are. Having them kind of shoves it in your face.”
“Robson found a therapist and tried to figure out what he was going through, but still felt unable to open up about what he says happened with Jackson. “I went through the story of my life with Michael, but just the good parts,” Robson says.
“I started thinking, how can I have such clear, negative feelings about if that stuff happened to [my son], but when I go through what happened to me, I don’t feel anything.”
Robson then recalls the moment, an hour after he had finally told his therapist what happened with Jackson, where he told his brother, wife and sister that the allegations were true.
Safechuck and Robson understand why it’s difficult to fans to believe them.
“He had so many good parts about him, people think his music’s great so he’s great. And people grew up with him too, he’d be a star since he was a little kid,” Safechuck says. “So to think that that person is doing the worst thing possible to kids… it’s tough, I think, for people to wrap their heads around.”
5 Things I learnt about CSA from Leaving Neverland
Seduction and grooming are part of the process.
Gaining the trust of families is part of the process.
Fear, love, shame and pleasure are an inextricable part of the abuse, making it impossible for victims to ever feel comfortable or clear about their memories and pain.
It can takes years of therapy to unravel the complexity of the feelings involved.
For Oprah Winfrey and the people involved in the documentary, it is not about Michael Jackson or his estate.
It is about supporting victims, understanding their experience and believing their pain.