Millions of people were glued to Leaving Neverland, the HBO Michael Jackson documentary detailing the singer’s alleged sexual abuse of boys, but many others likely turned away. Some may have turned away because they believe these allegations are false, but others — particularly parents — may have turned away because they just could not emotionally handle the words of the young men at the center of the film describing how easy it can be for a predator to seduce a child in front of their parents and the world.
This is understandable. Healthy people are not wired to think of children in a sexual way and have difficulty when confronted with stories of abuse. But please don’t look away — it’s this aversion that gives predators cover. Find the courage to work through your discomfort and make talking about sexual health and safety an important part of your family life.
Here are basics that adults need to know:
Here are some basics that children need to know:
The level of detail will vary by age. If parents provide an emotionally safe space for discussion, their children’s questions can guide the topics and detail.
The phrase, “sexual abuse” is certainly correct from a legal and moral standpoint, but too often it lacks accuracy and confuses children. As boys, the young men interviewed in Leaving Neverland did not feel abused until much later in life. I’ve experienced adult women speaking to me after a workshop telling me that until they learned that day that sexual arousal was an autonomic reflex, they had always felt complicit in their abuse.
Child and adolescent victims lack knowledge and language to understand; but this knowledge and language is a gift all parents can give. It may help prevent your child from being entrapped or from feeling responsible if a predator strikes.