“Leaving Neverland” is the heart-wrenching story of two now-adult men who claim they were victims of sexual and psychological abuse as teens by Michael Jackson. Sadly, it’s only one of two such exposés out now. “Surviving R. Kelly” explores similar allegations against former R&B superstar Robert Sylvester Kelly, or R. Kelly. Together, they shed light on a horrible modern reality: children allegedly groomed by their star-struck parents, then handed over to sexual predators.
This story is astonishing for a number of reasons. One, of course, is how Jackson’s two victims reveal in such astonishing detail the abuse and the true magnitude of the emotional injury they suffered at the hands of a man who at the time was a global superstar. People whispered—some even spoke aloud—of Jackson’s odd behavior with young boys. Luring them and their families into his world, then having the parents so willingly release the boys into his inner sanctum.
The second cause for astonishment is that Jackson’s story isn’t the only one. Unlike Jackson, who died in 2009, Kelly is angrily denying accusations by then under-aged girls who claim to have suffered sexual, physical and emotional abuse. He has been charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, at least nine involving minors.
The similarities are striking. Here were two global celebrities whose fame and money apparently blinded parents, who refused to ask obvious—even any—questions. What’s worse, idol-worshipping parents, family members and other supposed friends allegedly groomed these children for these pedophiles.
We know such sexual abuse occurs far too regularly. Beyond Jackson and Kelly, countless predators, including children and adults, are abusing children whose tales may never be told or heard. What’s worse is that when the children are in foster care, they have already been traumatized, first by the horrific abuse from their parents sufficient to justify removal then second, by removal from their parents, and finally, by the sexual abuse that indelibly impacts their lives as these children grow into adults. They suffer appalling and unspeakable effects of abuse while they are at the most vulnerable point in their lives. The two men in Jackson’s story both claim ongoing emotional trauma that pales next to what foster children endure. Studies show that many children abused by adult predators grow to repeat the behavior while others suffer relentless dreams as part of their post-traumatic stress disorder. Jackson’s and Kelly’s acts from a generation ago remain a modern pox on society.
The positive side to Jackson’s and Kelly’s public spectacles is once-unspeakable truths are being told. This may encourage other survivors to shed their shame and guilt, emerge from hiding and come forward to share their tales.
“Leaving Neverland” has been called “relentless.” Once-mighty untouchables “are falling fast,” wrote one reviewer. The hope is their fall pulls back the curtain that hid these abuses from public view and encourages other survivors to step into the light and seek heeling for themselves and others. However, most foster children did not have a Neverland, and experienced original abuse that was so horrible that the traumas that followed remain unspeakable.
Howard M. Talenfeld, is the president of Florida’s Children First and the founder of Talenfeld Law, the first law firm in Florida to focus exclusively on protecting the rights of physically and sexually abused, medically fragile, foster and other at-risk children. He may be reached at 754-888-5437 or email@example.com.