opinion

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

The documentary Leaving Neverland, which details the alleged abuse of James Safechuck and Wade Robson at the hands of Michael Jackson, has hit a cultural nerve.

There is a sense, in my mind at least, that while Jackson was inviting young boys into his bedroom in the early hours of the morning, we were all sitting in the room next door. Perhaps listening to Bad on repeat.

We cannot say this time that we didn’t know, because we did.

Perhaps the most famous pop star of all time stood on the world stage and told us that he slept in beds with children and we collectively shrugged our shoulders.

We bought into a logic that, in retrospect, didn’t make sense.

If the allegations are true, then James Safechuck and Wade Robson were groomed. Their mothers were groomed.

And so were we.

“When I was a kid,” Jackson told us, “I was denied not only a childhood, but I was denied love.”

And who denied that to him?

Well, we did.

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Jackson was six when he joined the Jackson Brothers, a band that one year later would become The Jackson 5.

We were greedy. We bought albums that we would later learn were the product of child labour. We laughed and applauded and demanded more as an 11-year-old Jackson sung ‘I Want You Back’ – a song he couldn’t possibly have understood. Behind it all was abuse and exploitation, and we funded it.

When we began to raise an eyebrow about Jackson’s behaviour at his Neverland Valley Ranch in California, he told us, “I wanted a place that I could create everything that I never had as a child. I was always on tour, traveling. You know?

“We have busloads of kids, who don’t get to see those things… they enjoy it in a pure, loving, fun way. It’s people with the dirty mind that think like that.”

The gut feeling we had that something wasn’t right, Jackson told us, was our own fault. We were sexualising the platonic. What an awful thing to do to an innocent man – to let our ‘dirty’ minds get in the way of philanthropy.

And so, we sat in our room next door, and turned up Bad a little louder.

But the noises didn’t go away. The accusations kept coming.

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Then we saw it, with our own eyes, during an interview with British journalist Martin Bashir in 2003.

“Michael, you’re a 44-year-old man now,” Bashir asked. “What do you get out of this?”

Jackson sat across from his interviewer, holding tightly the hand of 12-year-old Gavin Arvizo.

michael jackson
Michael Jackson and Gavin Arvizo. Image via ITV.

"Why can’t you share your bed? That’s the most loving thing to do, to share your bed with someone," he replied, as Arvizo rested his head on Jackson's shoulder.

There were hints of coercion -"If you love me, you’ll sleep on the bed," Jackson admitted he had said to Arvizo. The physical affection was blatant.

But we liked the idea that Jackson just loved, really loved, children. It felt true because we so desperately wanted it to be.

So we turned up the music a little louder.

Maybe it was that Jackson didn't attempt to hide what he was doing that made him all the more convincing.

Like the family friend invited into the home, or the Priest who asks the school boys to stay back, or the uncle who takes a particular interest in a child, there's a level of visibility that renders one invisible.

Isn't that the paradox of sexual abuse?

Often, the perpetrator doesn't creep into the window in the middle of the night. Rather, they're the person you greet at the door, and then step kindly out of the way, welcoming them in.

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We all stepped out of the way for Michael Jackson, didn't we?

For decades, it now seems, we were groomed by the most famous man in the world.

And now it's time to turn down the music and listen to what might have been happening next door all along.

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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