"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 (zhiner@snapnetwork.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)

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  • Ronald Lemmert
    commented 2019-03-05 20:29:36 -0600
    I was very moved by the documentary and the courage of those two heroic survivors in sharing their story. Their experience is almost identical to that of the survivors of clergy sexual abuse, considering the high esteem in which they held their predator. As a founding member of Catholic Whistleblowers, I have heard many such stories and have always found them believable. The rest of society has got to wake up and listen to stories like that and support the survivors instead of praising the predators.
  • David Pietrasanta
    commented 2019-03-05 09:40:44 -0600
    I want to support the facts in this article. It took me 25 years of holding on to my secret that a “friend of the family” started molesting me during the summer between 5th and 6th grade. This lasted ten plus years and happened over and over and over again. Why didn’t I say anything? My fear of what would happen to me if my secret got out. My friends would make fun of me, and I would be sent to the other side of the world to live alone in a small cabin in the woods. I was consumed with shame and guilt and was committed to taking my secret to my grave. He dropped me off one night in front of my parents house and as I was getting out of the car, he grabbed my left forearm and with a look on his face I will never forget said, “You know this is just between us, don’t tell anyone, not even your family”. I want people to know how this monster manipulated my mind and my emotions. This man, Samuel L. Jones of Newcastle PA. (last known address), had my mind so twisted that I was overcome with relief because I thought he would tell my parents and the rest of the world it was my idea and my fault. I was diagnosed back in 1989 with major depression. I tried to kill myself. I was addicted to drugs. I was a loner and withdrawn because I had to construct a steel wall around me so nobody would find out my secret. Fast forward to today, after 22 times in drug treatment centers and 20 years of psychotherapy, I have made the transition from a victim to a survivor. I have been sober for 11 years and two months. For 12 years I was the guest speaker at the Virtus program: “Saving God’s Children” at Our Lady of Grace church in Encino, CA. The program centered around raising awareness and educating adults about childhood sexual abuse. I also went back to school to supplement my college degree, and now I am a “Addictions Treatment Counselor.” However, my depression has limited me to part time work. I want everyone to know that I will always be living with the side effects of being molested for the rest of my life. My message to victims / survivors is that recovery is possible but you cannot do it alone.
  • Andrea DiMaggio
    commented 2019-03-05 08:29:58 -0600
    The reception many of us experienced AFTER telling about our abuser is a strong indication of why it is so difficult to report in the first place. And in cases like this one or in other high profile cases, people seem more willing to believe AUTOMATICALLY that the victims are lying. As much as I’d like to accommodate the ‘rights’ of the accused, it is important to work backward in a sense and advocate for the alleged victim purely for the sheer volume of credibility by child victims. And from my perspective most of those who argue the hypothetical ‘innocence’ do not know anyone (that they’re aware of) who has been touched by this horror!

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