WARNING: The following story contains graphic details of child sexual abuse.
This week, I viewed HBO’s documentary “Leaving Neverland” in its entirety. I cannot speak to the veracity of the allegations made in the film, but I promise you this: what I witnessed will haunt me forever.
The film, directed by Dan Reed, is disturbing, disquieting, devastating — and credible. In the two-part, four-hour documentary, Wade Robson and James Safechuck describe being befriended, groomed, and molested by Michael Jackson. Both Robson and Safechuck are Australian; both men met Jackson in 1987, and both recount developing friendships with Jackson that ultimately became much, much more.
Safechuck met Jackson at age nine in January 1987, while filming a Pepsi commercial. Robson met Jackson in November, after five-year-old Wade won a Jackson impersonation contest. (Jackson was on tour in Australia, promoting his Bad album.) Jackson became fast friends with Safechuck, spending time at his family home and inviting the family to his house at Hayvenhurst. Safechuck and Jackson would go for walks at night, watch movies together, and talk regularly on the phone. In June 1988, Safechuck and his family vacationed in Hawaii with Jackson and then joined him on tour. James would join Jackson onstage and stay in his hotel suite. It was during this time, Safechuck says, where the abuse began: “In Paris, he introduced me to masturbation, and that’s where it started,” Safechuck says.
In 1989, Robson’s family vacationed in Los Angeles. Jackson invited them to Neverland Ranch for the weekend; Wade and his sister Chantal spent the night in Michael’s room. The family had initially planned to travel to the Grand Canyon together, but Jackson convinced them to leave Wade behind. The two spent an entire week alone together at Neverland, which is where Robson says Jackson began to molest him.
Both Robson and Safechuck describe their alleged abuse in graphic, queasy detail. They both say that the fondling and masturbation escalated to oral sex. Safechuck recalls waking up to learn that Jackson had performed oral sex on him while he was sleeping.
He describes multiple places where abuse occurred: an Indian fort with tepees, a room inside the arcade, a third-floor attic of the main house, and another house “far away”. He recalls two private rooms in the movie theater and a bedroom in the theme park’s castle. “The pool and the Jacuzzi — oral sex. Like, holding your breath and then going down, kind of like a game. At the train station, there’s a room upstairs, and we would have sex up there, too. It happened every day.”
Meanwhile, in 1990, the Robson family visited Neverland. The first night, seven-year-old Wade and ten-year-old sister Chantal watched movies on Jackson’s bed, falling asleep with him. The family was scheduled to visit the Grand Canyon the next day. But Jackson convinced them to leave Wade at Neverland. He stayed for five days.
On the first day, Robson says Jackson initiated contact: hugs, kisses on the forehead, a hand on the thigh. That night, Robson says, Jackson fondled him over (and under) his pajamas. “There was nothing aggressive about it,” Robson recalls. “I never felt scared.”
Things escalated rapidly. Robson recalls “taking showers together and fondling and kissing,” but things escalated even further. Robson alleges Jackson performed oral sex on him. “I remember him putting his hands on my head while he was down there. I’ll never forget the feeling of his hair; it was rough, like a Brillo pad,” Robson says.
At Jackson’s Westwood condo in western L.A, the abuse continued. Robson claims Jackson told him that if anyone found out, “he and I would go to jail for the rest of our lives.” Safechuck says he visited Jackson at Westwood, too. “We were like this married couple,” he states. He adds that, at 10, he and Jackson exchanged rings in a mock wedding ceremony in Jackson’s bedroom. Safechuck still has the ring.
Back in Australia for school, Wade kept in near-constant contact with Jackson via faxes and lengthy phone calls. When Jackson did an ad campaign in L.A., Wade joined him. For six weeks, he traveled between Neverland and Westwood with Jackson. Robson says sexual contact resumed while Wade’s mother was in another room. He also charges that Jackson began showing him pornography.
At the end of the trip, Jackson asked Wade’s mother Joy if she’d let Wade stay with him for a year. Joy refused, but did agree to extend their stay. Meanwhile, Wade’s father Dennis was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. As his mood and behavior grew more unpredictable, the marriage began to unravel. Joy Robson decided to move to Los Angeles — ostensibly to further Wade’s dance career, but perhaps also to end her marriage. Wade and Chantal joined her.
In L.A., the Robsons arrived to learn that their apartment wasn’t paid for. (Jackson usually paid for their lodging.) Then, during filming the “Black or White” music video, Jackson started spending more time with actor Macaulay Culkin. Young Wade was hurt and jealous; Safechuck says he felt the same way when he saw Jackson spending more and more time with other boys.
James Safechuck was a preteen by then, and thus the sexual activity escalated. “It got more dirty,” he recalls. Safechuck alleges Jackson digitally penetrated him when he was 12: “I was asking him not to do it, but he did it. And he said: ‘Oh, you’ll like it.'” (He didn’t.) It would be one of his last encounters with Michael Jackson.