explainer

5 key facts from Leaving Neverland, the documentary about Michael Jackson's alleged abuse.

The following deals with childhood sexual abuse. For 24-hour support, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).

On Friday morning, Australian viewers will have access to a documentary that has captivated attention and fuelled debate around the world, one so disturbing that counsellors were made available to the audience at its Sundance Film Festival premiere.

It’s called Leaving Neverland, and it gives voice to two men who claim that, as children, they were subjected to sexual abuse by the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson.

In the four-hour, two-part film, which will be available to stream on 10 Play from 10:01am on March 8, choreographer Wade Robson, 36, and James Safechuck, 42, explicitly detail claims about the horrors Michael Jackson allegedly inflicted on them in mid-to-late 1980s. From allegations of psychological grooming, to sleepovers at the singer’s famous Neverland ranch and years of sexual attacks.

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According to Leaving Neverland, these are five key facts about Michael Jackson’s twisted relationship with Wade Robson and James Safechuck.

1. Michael Jackson met Wade Robson and James Safechuck when they were children, and befriended their families.

Five-year-old Australian boy Wade Robson met his hero, Michael Jackson, in 1984 when he won a nation-wide dance competition inspired by the popstar’s signature moves. The performer invited him backstage at his Brisbane concert, and a few years later, when the boy and his family went on holiday to California, they were invited to stay at Neverland in Santa Barbara.

Safechuck, meanwhile, met Michael Jackson in 1986 on the set of a Pepsi commercial in which they both starred. Jackson was taken with the then-10-year-old, taking Safechuck and his family on tour with him.

2. The boys had unsupervised sleepovers at Neverland.

Michael Jackson was open about having sleepovers with children. For the 2002 documentary, Living with Michael Jackson, he told journalist Martin Bashir, “I have slept in the bed with many children… It’s very right. It’s very loving.”

According to court documents, Wade Robson was seven years old when he and his 10-year-old sister spent the first night of their holiday at Neverland sleeping alongside Jackson in his bed. The second night, it was just the boy. These solo sleepovers became more frequent when Robson and his family moved to the United States, with Jackson’s encouragement.

Wade Robson first met Michael Jackson when he was five. Image: Amos Pictures
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On their first trip to Neverland, James Safechuck's mother, Stephanie, said 'no' to her son sleeping in Jackson's room. But after joining the singer on tour, they grew more familiar with him - even grew to "love" him. Eventually - she couldn't pinpoint precisely when - she changed her mind about sleepovers. “It seems like it was a natural thing that happened,” Stephanie told the documentary.

3. They claim Michael Jackson repeatedly sexually assaulted them.

Wade Robson alleges that Michael Jackson molested him on numerous occasions over the course of seven years, beginning with that first solo sleepover with Jackson. He claims the abuse included masturbation, oral sex and finally rape, which he alleges occurred when he was 14.

James Safechuck's allegations are disturbingly similar and include claims of fondling, French kissing, masturbation, and oral sex.

Michael Jackson died in 2009, and was never convicted of these or any other charges of sexual abuse. His estate has firmly denied the claims of abuse made by Safechuck and Robson, and described Leaving Neverland as a "public lynching".

4. They told no one about the alleged abuse.

For more than a decade, Safechuck denied Jackson had ever inappropriately touched him or approached him sexually, until he opened up to his mother and his wife. James Safechuck claims Jackson would threaten that if he ever told anyone about the instances of abuse, “his life would be over and my life would over.”

Video by HBO

Similarly, Robson claims Jackson told him they would both go to jail if he ever uttered what went on during their sleepovers. He said he repressed memories for years, and that it wasn't until 2012, after the birth of his son that he began experiencing "visual flashes" of what happened to him as a child.

5. Both boys testified on Michael Jackson's behalf.

In 2003, Michael Jackson was arrested and sent to trial over allegations he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old boy named Gavin Arvizo.

Both James Safechuck and Wade Robson were called upon to testify on the singer's behalf; and in 2005 told a court, both under oath, that Jackson had never touched them inappropriately: "I was excited by the idea of being able to defend [Jackson]. And being able to save him," Robson said in the documentary.

Michael Jackson walked away from that courtroom a free man, acquitted of all charges against him.

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Wade Robson and James Safechuck have since both filed lawsuits against Michael Jackson's estate and associates in 2013 and 2104, respectively, but both cases were dismissed on technical grounds - not on the credibility of their claims. Both men are appealing.

Robson and Safechuck have said they have not received any money from Leaving Neverland. Instead, Robson told the filmmakers his participation is essential part of coming to terms with his trauma and seeking the justice he believes he and countless others were denied. As he stated in the documentary, “I want to speak the truth as loud as I spoke the lie.”

If you, or a young person you know, is struggling with symptoms of mental illness please contact your local headspace centre or chat online with a trained clincian.

If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan or call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For children, help is available on Kid’s Helpline on 1800 551 800.

Read more on this topic:

Without us noticing, it looks like Michael Jackson groomed us for decades.

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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