"Leaving Neverland" and Myths about Sexual Violence
Over the weekend, HBO aired the first part of a powerful documentary on the topic of child sexual abuse, renowned abusers, and the reactions that victims experience when they come forward.
In Leaving Neverland, Wade Robson and James Safechuck discuss the grooming and abuse they say they experienced at the hand of international superstar Michael Jackson. While these allegations have bubbled up and simmered back down over the past several decades, one thing has stayed constant: the disbelief that survivors experience.
Whenever allegations are made against powerful and beloved men, those allegations are instantly disbelieved by their followers. Whether it was Barbara Blaine in 1985 or Anita Hill in 1991, survivors who bring forward allegations do so bravely and in the face of fierce opposition. Whether it was Fr. Chester John "Chet" Warren in 1985, or Michael Jackson in 1993 or Michael Jackson in 2019, there are usually those who cannot believe that the person who stood behind the pulpit or whose music they loved could also be the cause of so much pain to someone else.
This reaction, as natural as it can feel, is unhealthy and dangerous for our society. This reaction is borne from ignorance about sexual violence and the way that this trauma affects victims. The fact is, false reports of sexual violence are incredibly rare. Research also shows that most survivors of childhood abuse do not come forward until many years later. While it might seem strange to an average American that people wait for so long to come forward with allegations, the fact is that what Wade and James have experienced is “normal.”
We stand in support of all survivors, whether they were abused in a church, a school, their own home or that of a friend. We believe survivors when they come forward and stay ready to offer a kind word, a shoulder to lean on, or a ride to one of our local support groups.
We hope that Wade and James are receiving more offers of support today than they are messages of vitriol. We also hope that others who have been abused will find courage in their story and will be inspired to come forward today to make a report and start healing.
Most importantly, we hope that those who have not been abused will take this opportunity to learn more about sexual violence, the toll that it takes on individuals and families, and what they can do to help support survivors, protect children, and help prevent abuse from happening in the future.
Leaving Neverland provides each of us with an opportunity to learn and to do more. We cannot let this opportunity to do better as a nation slip by. Let's learn together.
CONTACT Zach Hiner, Executive Director (firstname.lastname@example.org, 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)