UPDATE: This story was originally published March 3 at 2:00 p.m. ET.
Content warning: This article includes detailed claims of sexual abuse of a minor. It was on the set of a 1988 Pepsi commercial that then 10-year-old James Safechuck met Michael Jackson. At the time, he was young, impressionable, and vulnerable — traits Safechuck claims Jackson used to manipulate, groom, and sexually molest him for years. Now 41, Safechuck shared detailed allegations in HBO's 2019 documentary, Leaving Neverland, which details his and Wade Robson's claims of childhood sexual assault they says they experienced at the hands of the late singer. (Jackson denied ever abusing children when he was alive, and the Jackson family vehemently denies Safechuck and Robson's claims now.)
After the documentary was released, many viewers became concerned with Safechuck's wellbeing, and on March 20, the director of Leaving Neverland gave a welcome update on the Jackson accuser. "Women feel very protective of James. We have had quite a few emails from people asking about James. 'Is there anything I can do?'" Dan Reed said on the podcast Reality Life With Kate Casey. He continued,
"James is in a pretty good place. When he did the interview back in February 2017 he was perhaps more fragile, definitely more fragile than he is now. He has been through a lot, but he’s in a great place now. He’s going to be in therapy for the rest of his life. He knows that, but he is strong. I think Sundance was a real turning point for him, to have that public validation of his story. To have people believe him and stand up and give him an ovation instead of standing up and shouting at him and calling him a liar. So that has been transformational, with the way this film has been received. It has been transformational for both Wade and James."
Original article continues:
Safechuck, who came forward with his allegations after Jackson died in 2009, has kept a relatively low profile throughout his adult life; though, as he explained in a February 2019 interview with CBS This Morning, Safechuck's desire to warn people about the dangers of child sexual abuse was more important to him than staying out of the spotlight. And the spotlight is definitely on, starting with the standing ovation he and Robson received when the four-hour documentary premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and continuing with the doc's premiere and a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey on March 4.
For years, the former child actor has alleged that Jackson kissed him, taught him how to masturbate, performed oral sex on him, and forced him to perform oral sex. (Jackson's family claims Safechuck and Robson are opportunists who made up these claims to get money from Jackson's estate.) While he now recognizes the trauma Jackson's alleged actions caused him, Safechuck explained to CBS that he didn't realize how harmful the relationship was at the time.
"There's no alarm bells going off in your head or any thoughts like that," he said. "Really, it's just, 'I love this person, and we're trying to make each other happy.' He said I was his first, but even as kid you don't know what that means. You're lovers, and you're best friends... You just feel really connected to someone, and you just love them intensely."
Safechuck and Wade Robson, who's also accused Jackson of child sexual abuse, recognized that viewers may be skeptical of their claims. Both men testified on Jackson's behalf in 1993, after another child, Jordan Chandler, accused the singer of molestation. Despite the backlash, Safechuck and Robson, who are both now married with their own children, said they felt they needed to come forward not to regain favorability in the public eye, but to help others and heal themselves. Safechuck also made it clear that he in no way wants others to feel pressured to share their personal experiences.
"I do think there are others out there, but I also don't expect them to just come out now that we're coming out," he said. "It's such a difficult thing to do to come out. You have to do it when you're ready."
Just because he's "come out" with his story doesn't mean that he's entirely comfortable discussing it publicly, though. Safechuck told the Associated Press earlier this year that he was initially hesitant to participate in Leaving Neverland.
"I was concerned about somebody just sensationalizing the story," he said. "Is this person out to just put together a piece for people to watch because it's Michael? Or is it somebody who is going to tell the story of survivors and abuse and what that's like?"
Ultimately, he agreed to spend two days with director Dan Reed recounting his childhood experiences, even though the process was emotionally difficult. "I don't think it was as therapeutic for me," he explained. "It was tough."
The documentary hasn't been the only triggering thing in his life. Safechuck told Vanity Fair in February that he can't even listen to a Jackson song in public without feeling overwhelmed. "It's still really hard for me. And I don't think a day goes by where I don't hear a song," he said. "You go out to have a drink with your friend, you're trying to relax and let everything go, and he'll come on. Every time. It's hard. It gets easier, but it's still hard."
Though times are still tough, Safechuck said he feels supported by his family and that he's grateful for (if not surprised by) the kindness some viewers have shown him.
Now that the film is out, Safechuck can, hopefully, focus on his needs and feel good knowing he shared his side of the story.