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SocietyMarch 12, 2019

It took Michael Jackson’s victims 20 years. It took me 20 years, too


Long term abuse and grooming happened to me and I waited two decades to take it to court. I can talk about this now when others can’t, because I was lucky, writes Amanda Thompson

The Leaving Neverland documentary is out and I can’t watch it. Good luck to you amateur sleuths who will be glued to this newest true-crime-or-is-it?-armchair-judge-and-jury-and-executioner offering, but I won’t be debating it with you later. I will not be reading the comments. The whole thing is making me – as a friend succinctly put it – triggered AF.

Everybody knows the story behind this film and even though I wasn’t there and you (presumably) weren’t there in California, on the ranch, in the 1990s or 2000s, in Michael Jackson’s bedroom, we all like to think we can work out what happened. We all like to think we are the kind of people who can spot a villain when we see one, and we all know the only villain worse than a manipulative paedophile is the person who says someone is a manipulative paedophile when it isn’t true.

I like to imagine people’s opinions about this doco on a kind of bell curve of vehemence, with the Y axis measuring the amount of people, and the x axis measuring how certain we are in what we “know”. The graph will have a small, flat lump of people at one end vehemently believing that MJ was a philanthropist, musical genius and all-round good guy who has been unfairly maligned. Right up at the other skinny end another tiny amount of people are just as sure that he was a psychopathic paedophile who ruined the lives of James Safechuck and Wade Robson, and had enough money and influence to cover it up. The large majority though, are milling around in the big bulgy bit in the centre, confused and ambivalent, perhaps thinking Jackson was “a bit troubled” and maybe did some weird stuff? Or are those two guys are just “a bit troubled” and maybe imagined some weird stuff? But, also, they think, who cares any more? Why kick a man when he is – well, down – six feet down to be exact – and coincidentally dead? Why deny it then but drag it all up again now, 20 years later?

I can’t tell you who to believe, but I can answer the last question for you. Long term abuse and grooming happened to me and I waited 20 years to take it to court. I can talk about this now when others can’t because I was lucky (a policeman actually said that to me – just a tip, any police reading this – please don’t ever tell victims they are lucky) to have the offender plead guilty, admit everything, and be sentenced so that I was vindicated. I am free, because my case is a matter of public record and I can speak about it with no fear that I will be accused of defaming an innocent person. This outcome is statistically rare, like winning a kind of anti-lottery.

It took me 20 years because I thought people wouldn’t believe me. And worse – that some did believe me, and just didn’t care. I was told by people who were supposed to protect me that what happened, happened, but didn’t matter and wasn’t even a crime. I was told to go away and that the police weren’t interested. I was young and far from stupid and I chose to become part of this denial because I felt if my closest family didn’t believe that such a terrible thing had happened, then who would? The shame alone meant that if you had asked me back then, I would have sworn that it had never happened at all. If my case had gone to trial, my previous denial would surely have been used against me to make me seem less than believable. If the original acts were bad, the way that I was manipulated into colluding with my abusers – to basically, hurt myself by helping them – was far, far more damaging.

It took 20 years for it to become less scary to speak up than it was to keep silent and protect the ones I loved. That’s truthfully what happened to me and I find it easy to believe it could be like this for others, too. I guess you’ll just have to trust me on that.

If you think it seems pointless to “drag it all up after all this time” and that those living with the effects of historic abuse are better to try and “get over it and move on”, I have good and bad news for you – you’re kind of right and you’re also kind of wrong about how this stuff works. Not all survivors want or need to go down my path. Some agree with you and just want to forget and move on with life, and reliving the experience in court would not be helpful for them. For some of us though, healing is absolutely impossible without confrontation, especially if that offender is still walking around scot-free and may even be getting away with offending against others.

Going through the court case was for me the only way to release from the terrible burden I was carrying. I was fortunate that the guilty plea meant it never ended up going to a trial, which I am told would have been an experience to test anyone’s sanity. My therapist told me not to do it. One vividly blunt victim support person told me not to do it because of what she had seen complainants go through on the stand. “If I was you,” she went on, “I’d just get a gun and take care of him yourself.”

If a statute of limitations had prevented me from going to court, maybe I would have made a documentary. I’m glad I didn’t have to resort to that (or a gun). As it was I lost most of my family forever but I regained myself, and if you don’t agree with the justice system being used for that, feel free to take it up with the guilty person who stole me from me in the first place.

I am free, because I told the truth and the court has ruled that I am the good guy and it has sentenced the villain and he has been punished and the story has ended in a satisfying justice. One in three women and one in seven men in New Zealand goes through the ordeal of sexual abuse in their lifetime, so you will know these people, they are your friends, even if you don’t know who they are. They don’t want to speak out with the fear that those who mean the most to them will say they are unhinged or just doing it for notoriety. As someone who knows, I can only describe this “coming out” as like jumping naked into a piranha tank without knowing when you’ll ever be able to get out again. Your friends will listen when you discuss this film, at work at home, on social media, and what you say about these people is what they will know waits for them if they ever want to step forward and try to be free. Be mindful, I beg.

If Michael Jackson is in reality a freak show who groomed his tiny victims and their parents with bribes of wealth and success beyond their wildest dreams, it means that we must rethink all of his many contributions to music, to charity and to the bedazzled glove industry. If he is not the villain – just a goofy guy who liked to be nice to kids and is having this very kindness portrayed as a terrible weakness – then his accusers must be so.

You get to decide.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of child sexual abuse or sexual assault, or found any of the above content triggering, please contact any of the following organizations for support:

Help // // (09) 623 1700
Lifeline // // 0800 LIFELINE or free text to HELP (4357)
Te Ohaakii a Hine – National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together //
Wellington Rape Crisis // // (04) 801 8973
Women’s Refuge // // 0800 REFUGE

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