The landscape has now changed on a story I first began reporting some two decades ago and newly released details demand an update to the sad saga.
Two men have come forward to discuss, in graphic detail, what they say was their years-long sexual abuse at the hands of entertainer Michael Jackson. Their claims spill out in a newly screened four-hour documentary just released at the Sundance Film Festival. The biopic entitled, “Leaving Neverland” will be shown on HBO sometime this spring.
Film critics who viewed the expose wrote that the shocking revelations of James Safechuck and Wade Robson are, “devastatingly powerful and (offer) convincing testimony that Michael Jackson was guilty of child sexual abuse.” Another wrote, that the audience was left “shell-shocked” by the details, a third predicted, “ You’ll never listen to Michael Jackson the same way again. In fact, you may never listen to Michael Jackson again at all.”
Safechuck, 40, says his molestation by Jackson started when he was 10. Robson, 36, says it first happened to him at age 7 and when he had his own son the reality hit him. He realized what Jackson had done to him as a boy was a crime.
Both men met Jackson through their childhood interest in show business. Robeson as a dancer, Safechuck as an actor. The boys – and their parents – were mesmerized by the superstar’s attention and expensive gifts.
Safechuck and Robson had not met until just before the screening. In separate on-camera interviews they recount private times spent with Jackson that included watching pornography and lessons in kissing, masturbation, oral and anal sex, all cloaked in playful boyhood language. They were constantly reminded by Jackson, they said, to keep their activities secret or they would “go to jail.” Safechuck remembers he was put though drills on quickly putting his clothes back on and was once “married” to Jackson in a ceremony that included vows and rings. Robson reveals his idol once instructed him to throw away his underwear after a sexual encounter and that he became jealous as other, younger boys were brought in to replace him. The film suggests Safechuck and Robson weren’t the only victims of the King of Pop.
Jackson’s fans, family and estate lawyers were quick to label the documentary “tabloid character assassination” engineered by two men who are motivated by money and are known “perjurers.”
The first charge is strange since neither was paid for appearing in the documentary and lawsuits they filed against the Jackson estate years ago were dismissed with no monetary settlement. The Jackson team does have a point when it mentions perjury. Both Robson and Safechuck have said in the past – and under oath – that while they slept in bed with Jackson nothing untoward occurred.
But have we learned nothing about how child sex abuse victims react? Think about the countless numbers of adults who have come forward years or decades later to talk about priestly molestation or forced sexual activity at the hands of a doctor, teacher or other authority figure. That Safechuck and Robson kept the secret is not unique. Victims often deny abuse when asked and wait until they feel strong enough to endure outsider’s reactions to their truth.
In a recent conversation with retired FBI Agent Ken Lanning, the man who wrote the pedophile profile for the Bureau, I was reminded how charming and cunning pedophiles can be and, most importantly, how they seduce parents first as a way to gain access to the child.
“Maybe these men now feel safer to speak out because Michael Jackson is dead,” Lanning told me. “Or maybe it’s because they are both fathers now.” Or maybe they were just tired of carrying such an ugly burden all these years. The last section of the documentary is particularly moving as the men tearfully explain just how they finally disclosed their secret to their families.
Since 1993, when I first reported the story about Jackson and allegations of child sex abuse, and especially after release of my book detailing the years I spent investigating the charges, the most frequently asked question has been, “Do you think he really did it?” When asked I always go through the names of the other young men who have identified themselves as Jackson’s victims: Jordan Chandler, Jason Francia, Gavin Arvizo and now James Safechuck and Wade Robson. I have knowledge of and suspicions about a dozen more males who, as children, were exposed to Jackson in very similar ways. Perhaps in the future some of them will come forward too.
In this #MeToo #TimesUp era there seems to be a measurable shift in public opinion about Jackson’s behavior with children and a deeper understanding of what victims of sex crimes go through. If, as I sense, more people will come to the conclusion that Jackson was a pedophile after seeing this documentary then there is only one remaining question: how did he get away with it for so long?