Content Warning: This article includes mild language involving allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. The documentary Leaving Neverland, in which choreographer Wade Robson and former child actor James Safechuck accuse Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them as children, is difficult to watch; it's equally as difficult to discuss. (Jackson's Estate continues to deny the claims of both Robson and Safechuck.) Despite the trauma Robson and Safechuck claim they've endured throughout their adulthoods, they've both spent years of their lives sharing their distressing allegations in court and with the press in hopes of healing and spreading awareness about childhood sexual abuse. These intentions seemed clear during Robson's 2013 interview with the Today Show (part of which is shown in the doc), in which he defended his credibility and aired his allegations against Jackson.
Robson's critics often point to the fact that he testified twice that Jackson never sexually abused him as a child — once in 1993 and, again, in 2005 — to discredit his claims. In his 2013 interview with Matt Lauer (who has since faced allegations of sexual abuse), Robson claimed that Jackson had engaged in "complete manipulation and brainwashing" to influence his testimony.
"I said what I understood, and I said what I was able to say," Robson said. "From seven years old, from day one of the abuse, Michael told me that we loved each other and that this was love, this was an expression of our love. And then, he'd follow that up with, 'If you ever tell anyone what we’re doing, both of our lives and careers will be over.' When I was 11, when the first trial was going on, the criminal investigation in '93, he would call me every day and role play and tell me the same sorts of things... that if anyone ever thought that we did any of these sexual things both of us would go to jail for the rest of our lives."
Robson also alleged that the abuse lasted for seven years (between the ages seven and 14), and that Jackson "performed sexual acts on me and forced me to perform sexual acts on him." Jackson's estate vehemently denies Robson's allegations and all sexual abuse claims made in Leaving Neverland.
Critics also ask Robson why he waited so long to come forward with his story, alleging that he only wants money and attention (Robson said these claims were "incomprehensible"). In 2013, and in Leaving Neverland, Robson explained that he hadn't been prepared to deal with the "trauma and psychological effects of child abuse" and that he's still in the beginning stages of his "healing process." As a father of a young boy, Robson also said he felt compelled to fight to end sexual violence against children so that his son — or any other child — would never have to experience the same pain he alleges he endured.
"I understand how confusing it is to understand, how hard it is to understand. I get that," he said. "But all it takes is a little bit of education into child sexual abuse and realizing how, unfortunately, typical my scenario is."
Watch Robson's full 2013 interview with Today below:
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).