opinion

'The mothers of Leaving Neverland are not to blame for what happened to their sons.'

This post deals with child sexual abuse. If it raises any issues for you, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

James Safechuck is asking himself a question.

“Do I forgive my parents?”

It’s the last thing James asks in four hours of interviews about what happened to him when he was a little boy.

And anyone who has sat through Leaving Neverland – the documentary about both James’ and Australian child-performer Wade Robson’s alleged abuse – is asking that same question about the boys’ families, along with another: How could they?

Because during these conversations, we’ve heard that when James was 10, his mum and dad frequently left him in the care of an alleged paedophile.

They travelled with the man, and let their son sleep in his hotel room rather than theirs.

They would go away and leave him at the man’s house.

They often stayed at the home with James and his alleged abuser. But they stayed in another room, another wing, another building, sometimes, knowing that their son was sharing a bed with a grown man.

And James says that over the course of days and weeks and months and years, the man coaxed him to become “his lover”. He taught the boy how to masturbate, and how to do the things that the man liked to look at while he masturbated himself. They performed oral sex on each other. James says they had sex in almost every room of one of the world’s most famous properties.

What do we do about Michael Jackson’s music? This is the question we’re asking on The Quicky.

The paedophile allegedly took James shopping for wedding rings, putting on an elaborate display for the surprised attendants in high-end jewellery shops that the tiny ring was meant to fit the hand of a woman whose finger was small and slender, like James’. James still has the ring that was used at their pretend “wedding”. A 32-year-old man, pledging himself to a 12-year-old boy, with whom he was in “love”.

The man moved on to another young boy. And then another. James was frequently pining, heartbroken. But the man always stayed in touch with James and his parents. Visiting, calling, making sure they were good. That they were on-side.

When James defended the alleged paedophile against child sexual abuse charges in a high-profile legal case, the man bought James’ parents a house.

When another legal case was mounted, brought by a different boy at a different time, James refused to testify. His parents were angry with him. And the man cut them all out of his life.

Now, James is 42 years old. And he is in the most-talked about documentary of the decade, telling the world that he spent years being sexually abused by Michael Jackson, the world’s most famous man.

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Michael Jackson and the Safechucks. Image: HBO.

So, how could they? How could James' and Wade's parents entrust an eccentric stranger with their sons?

How could they be so blinded by fame and power and rollercoasters and arcade games and candy shops and zoo animals and, yes, private planes and career opportunities and money, money, money, that they could convince themselves there was nothing unusual about the relationship between a middle-aged superstar and their slight, shy little boy?

And it's the question that James comes to at the end of the harrowing four hours.

So, can he forgive his parents?

"I'm working on it," he says.

Not so much the rest of the world. Those who believe the claims in Leaving Neverland - and the Jackson family is vehemently insisting that none of this ever happened - are mostly incensed by the actions of the Robsons and the Safechucks, specifically, the mothers.

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Wade Robson's mother Joy was a self-confessed "stage mum". Her little boy was five when his exceptional talent became apparent. A dancer who could mimic Jackson's moves with precision beyond his years, when she had the opportunity to hook Wade's train to Jackson's, she took it, visiting Neverland and then leaving Wade there with Jackson for a week to visit the Grand Canyon.

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Joy thought at the time that this might be her family's only chance to see the iconic valley, but she and Wade and Wade's sister Chantal packed up and moved from Brisbane to LA a few short years later, encouraged in no small part by Jackson and his promises of a glittering future. They're still there. Fractured, damaged, but still there.

Wade's father, Dennis, who told Joy she'd "lost her mind" when she moved Wade and Chantal to LA, took his own life in 2002.

leaving neverland trailer
Michael Jackson poses with Wade Robson and his family, including his late dad, Dennis, right. Image: HBO.

James Safechuck's mother, Stephanie, says she loved Michael Jackson like a son. Her husband, James Snr, was every bit as enamoured. They considered him family, even as he was trying to destroy theirs.

These women know now that they failed to protect their sons. For Stephanie, she knew it when James refused to testify for Jackson in his 2005 trial. He told her that Jackson was an "evil man" and finally, finally the scales lifted from her eyes. Stephanie says now that when she heard of Jackson's death in 2009, she jumped out of bed and danced with glee.

Joy's revelation came later, when Wade told his brother and his wife and his sister and eventually his mother that what he had been denying for decades was true. He alleges that Michael Jackson had abused him from the ages of seven to 14. Wade's wife Amanda was so furious with her mother-in-law over her failure of parental duty that she banned her from the family home. As Joy talks about that in Leaving Neverland, you can tell it still stings, but she still doesn't want to listen to the brutal details of what Wade says Jackson did to him.

It's easy to watch these women and the decisions they made - or didn't make - 30 years ago and simmer in furious judgement.

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They wanted their sons to do the most modern of things, to "follow their dreams". They thought they were giving them the best opportunity, a leg-up other kids could only dream of. And their love and ambition for their kids saw them give in to every misguided request that their boys made of them. They allowed themselves to be sidelined in their own children's lives. And they believed their kids when they denied that there was anything happening behind those closed Neverland doors beyond popcorn and video games and pillow fights.

It is not uncommon for paedophiles to win the trust of families - and particularly mothers - to gain access to their children. Ninety-five per cent of abused children are sexually assaulted by someone they know and trust. Whether it's the respected family priest, the attentive new boyfriend or the charismatic uncle, men who prey on children know that they have to disarm the gatekeepers to be trusted with their target.

Take away the mansions and the tours and promise of millions and what's left behind is a grubby tale that's repeated in far less glamorous homes the world over. Damaged men grooming women and children to fulfil their own devastating desires.

For Stephanie and Joy, they asked their grown boys, point-blank, more than once, "Did he do that to you?" And they welcomed their sons' definitive answers, to not have to consider the unthinkable, that they had delivered their babies to a monster.

Those little boys and the survivors they became are not at fault for those lies. Of course they are not.

But nor are their mothers. If anything, their decisions to sit in those chairs for Leaving Neverland is an act of extraordinary bravery. Stephanie and Joy must have known what the world would say about them. They are blisteringly aware that their families are shattered, that their boys may never, as James Safechuck so simply put it, work through to any kind of forgiveness.

But there is only one person truly responsible for the actions of Michael Jackson.

And he's no longer with us.

If this post has raised issues for you, please seek professional help and contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

Read more on this topic:

The signs Michael Jackson was grooming the children he was close to that so many missed.

"It wasn't going to mean anything": Why Michael Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley.

'Blanket' Jackson was just seven when his father died. This week he stopped talking.

The two boys who followed Wade Robson into Michael Jackson's bed insist they weren't abused.

Debbie Rowe says she gifted Michael Jackson two children because he was a 'wonderful man'.

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