*****TRIGGER WARNING – SEXUAL ABUSE*****
Last night, Drew and I watched the HBO documentary, “Leaving Neverland,” which details the alleged seduction and long-term abuse of two of the young boys who Michael Jackson was known to spend an unusual amount of time with.
I have to say that I feel guilty about watching it, and because I do, I feel the need to explain why I chose to.
As with most people my age, Michael Jackson was a HUGE part of my youth. I have wonderful and silly memories of fawning over pictures of him with my best girlfriends, and making up dances to his songs. I still remember how giddy I felt when the video for Thriller premiered, and some of his songs and videos still make me cry.
But the subject of sexual abuse is one that is close to my heart. There are so many levels to it, for both the abusers and the abused. So I needed to watch it, to decide for myself how I feel about the claims made by the men who are featured in this documentary.
And I have, and if you’ve watched it, I’d be happy to discuss that with you privately.
Oprah hosted an interview with the two men in the documentary and the producer in front of an audience of over a hundred people who have been victims of sexual abuse. There are a few points that she makes that I could personally relate to, and that is what I will discuss here.
The point that seemed most important to Oprah, one she repeats several times in the first few moments of the interview, is that sexual abuse doesn’t necessarily feel like abuse. It is often a seduction. Abusers want their victims to keep their secret, and to be willing to come back. They manipulate their victims with promises and lies. Often the abuse the child experiences feels pleasant, either physically or emotionally, at least in the beginning.
This leads to the next critical point: often survivors are left with a lot of guilt. “Did I want this to happen?” “How could I have been so dumb?” We judge our 12-year-old selves with the eyes and experience of an adult.
And the point that made the most impact on me is also part of the guilt equation for me. It doesn’t matter how far the abuse went. Abuse is abuse. It leaves lasting damage.
There were a number of moments in my life that were near-misses for sexual abuse, and even a couple of situations that would have beenkidnappings. But because my mother taught me well and from an early age, I had pretty good instincts and managed to remove myself from situations that could have gone horribly awry.
One of those men was a family friend. In the beginning, he was a nice guy whose house was a fun place to visit when we were in a difficult and in-between time in our family. He would let me bake various things, including pineapple upsidedown cake. He looked at magazines with my brothers, who were always seeming to rub most people the wrong way. My little sister adored him, and her pet name for him was Snowflake. We referred to him as Uncle ****.
One night, we kids stayed the night at their house (he was the partner of a long-time friend of my mother’s). My mom and the friend went out to a party. I was 12, and often at that age, my legs would ache. I laid back on the sofa, stretching out my legs, while we watched TV. My siblings crashed out on the floor. I complained about my achy legs, and he began to massage them. It felt good, and I responded as anyone would when achy legs are being massaged. He slid his hands up my pants leg. His massage moved slowly up my leg, and alarm bells began to ring. When he reached my inner thigh, his fingers brushed my panties. I told him that I needed to use the bathroom. When I came back from the bathroom, I sat up until he went to bed. After that, I became more wary of him, but because I had enjoyed the massage, I was afraid to tell anyone what had happened because I wasn’t sure if I was making a fuss out of nothing, or had I encouraged it. Had it been my fault?
After that, his abuse was mostly verbal harassment. For a few years, he was always around and I could not walk past him without him making comments about my body. If I helped my mother in the kitchen, he would find reasons to stand right behind me, critiquing my work, as he rubbed himself against me.
On one occasion, he actually walked up behind me, and unfastened my bra through my blouse, and then laughed, “I just wanted to see if I still had the touch.” Even as I type these words, I feel the anger and loathing bubbling up inside me like I’m about to vomit.
I don’t think any of the experiences that I had with this man or any of the, sadly, many others would have gotten anyone arrested or charges pressed. That confused me for years, because I had so much anger, but I thought it didn’t really count. But with my adult eyes, I can see them clearly and realize that my childish innocense was exploited by bad/sick men.
I’m thankful for a mom who educated me from my earliest memories and continued to explain things to me, even when I thought she was being over protective.
In summary, if you were abused, it wasn’t your fault, no matter what you may think. Talking helps, and if you ever need to talk, I’m usually right here in front of this computer.
If you have children, no age is too soon to start talking to them about consent. I have a dozen nieces and nephews, and I have never insisted on hugs. I love hugs, and I’ll take them when I can get them, but if they were reluctant to hug me, I’d tell them, “That’s OK. Maybe another time.” Then we’d fist-bump.