One of world’s most influential people says this “scourge on humanity” goes far beyond Michael Jackson’s alleged crimes.
Oprah Winfrey has publicly thanked Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed for illuminating in just four hours a topic she says she had tried for 25 years on The Oprah Winfrey Show to get the public to fully understand.
In After Neverland, a thought-provoking new TV special that acts as a companion piece to Reed’s documentary, Winfrey says that a child sexual abuse reckoning must “transcend Michael Jackson” — and explains why she thinks ‘abuse’ is a misleading term for the experiences she and countless others suffered as children.
First, a couple of facts.
1. Throughout his adult life, Michael Jackson enjoyed close companionships with a series of young boys, all unrelated to him. These little boys were frequently photographed with Jackson throughout the 1980s and 90s, travelling with him around the world and staying for countless nights at his Neverland home.
2. To date, five of these boys — Jordan Chandler and Jason Francia in 1993, Gavin Arvizo in 2003 and Wade Robson and James Safechuck in 2013 — have publicly accused Jackson of sexual abusing them. The first case was settled out of court; Jackson was acquitted of the second. Robson and Safechuck did not come forward until after Jackson had died, and their explosive allegations are detailed in director Reed’s jaw-dropping new four-hour documentary Leaving Neverland.
One man. Five accusers. And yet, Jackson’s innocence is being defended by some with a steadfast passion not afforded other famous men — among them Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and R. Kelly — accused in the #MeToo reckoning.
Some of Jackson’s most committed fans view him as a Christ-like figure — listening to his accusers would mean wrestling with the possibility their hero had a very dark side.
It’s becoming clear a certain segment of his fanbase will never watch Leaving Neverland, in which Robson and Safechuck recount their alleged experiences with Jackson in harrowing detail.
But for those who have watched, and seek to further understand the issues explored in the documentary, Oprah Winfrey’s one-hour special After Neverland is next on your watch list.
Winfrey interviews Robson, Safechuck and director Reed, in front of a studio audience made up of more than 100 sexual abuse survivors and their supporters.
The veteran TV host makes her position clear from the start: She believes both men. But she doesn’t go easy on them, asking the tough questions many viewers still want answered — about their true motivations, about why they took so long to come forward and about the blame we should apportion to their parents for enabling the alleged abuse.
A childhood sexual abuse survivor herself, Winfrey has dedicated much of her career to shining a light on what is a difficult and frequently misunderstood topic.
“Here’s the reason why I’m here,” Winfrey explains at the beginning of After Neverland.
“In 25 years of The Oprah Show, I taped 217 episodes on sexual abuse. I tried and tried to get the message across to people that sexual abuse was not just abuse, it was sexual seduction.”
She says that Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed was “able to illustrate in these four hours what I tried to explain in 217”.
And she’s right: Leaving Neverland is a detailed examination of the deeply manipulative predatory grooming behaviours that can lead to child sexual abuse so insidious that even victims don’t realise they’re being abused.
To hear Robson and Safechuck’s allegations of how Jackson — at the time, the biggest star in the world — wooed their entire families, is to understand the seduction and manipulation at play.
“Child sexual abuse; even the word ‘abuse’ lacks accuracy. I’ve been saying this for years,” explains Winfrey.
“As young boys, these two men did not feel it was abuse until much later. When you’re a child — this is the message I want every parent to hear — you don’t have the language to explain what is happening to you, because you’ve been seduced and entrapped.”
Robson himself explains why it took him so long to come forward.
“I had no understanding that what Michael did to me was abuse. From night one of the sexual stuff that Michael did to me, he told me that it was love, and that God brought us together. I was this little boy from the other side of the world, and Michael was a God to me. Now, he was telling me ‘I love you. God brought us together.’ This, this sexual stuff, this is how we show our love.”
So many of the particulars of Jackson’s story are truly unique: his money, fame and seemingly endless power to get what he wanted. But the abuse Safechuck and Robson allege they suffered is, sadly, anything but unique: 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.
“For me, this moment transcends Michael Jackson. It’s much bigger than any one person. It’s a moment in time that allows us to see this societal corruption, this scourge on humanity. It’s happening right now in families, in churches, in schools and in sports teams everywhere,” says Winfrey.
“If it gets you to see how it happens, then some good will have come of it.”
Watch Oprah’s full After Neverland special below:
Leaving Neverland is available to stream in full on TenPlay.