12 Mar 2019

The Panel discusses Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland

9:22 pm on 12 March 2019

Monday's The Panel discusses issues raised in the documentary Leaving Neverland, including why male survivors of sexual abuse are far less likely to disclose it. In the process, two panellists revealed they had survived childhood sexual abuse.

Children violence. boy, lad with her hand extended signaling to stop Children violence. boy, lad with her hand extended signaling to Stop, call for help, struggle, terrified, violence

Leaving Neverland tells the story of two young boys who say they were groomed and sexually abused by Michael Jackson. Photo: 123rf

Leaving Neverland tells the story of two young boys who say they were groomed by Michael Jackson over several months before being sexually abused.

Richard Jeffrey from male sex abuse survivor group MOSAIC told The Panel many victims felt a deep sense of shame, even though they were not to blame.

He was joined Ella Henry and Dean Hall, who shared their own stories of surviving childhood sexual abuse.

Ms Henry said she did not watch the documentary.

"I don't need to watch that kind of a train wreck to know how harmful it is," she said.

However, she said public discussion around child sex abuse was important.

"I think it's really important to shine a light into that dark place, particularly as someone who comes from a background of having experienced child sex abuse. But that was 60 years ago ... so a lot of time to heal and work through it."

She said the young men in Leaving Neverland were working through their past 20 years later.

"If that is true, then they do need all the support they can to go from the place of victimhood to survival.

"That's the take-home message whether I watch the documentary or not."

She said if someone was a victim of abuse that happened when they were too small to protect themselves, they grew older with a terrible feeling of guilt.

"Why me? Did I do something? Am I the problem in this? For some people, I don't even think they get passed it.

"I was lucky to have great counselling, great friends, great support, to get to the place beyond. The place beyond is beyond victimhood to survival ... beyond survival is absolute control over your life."

But, much time was wasted feeling terrible "because you think you're the problem," she said.

"That is the worst aspect of abusing a child - you give them not only the pain of the abuse but the legacy of self-doubt."

Agreeing with Ms Henry was Mr Hall, who said he'd watch the documentary when he felt ready to.

"I haven't watched it. I was sexually abused at primary school when I was five. It was a subject quite dear to my heart. It's not something I've publicly discussed ever.

"I felt for a long time I didn't want my life to be defined by the things that happened to me. I wanted to be defined by the things I did. I was worried that was going to overshadow things."

He said the #MeToo movement and documentaries as such helped him to start talking about it.

"For me, it's something I've never properly discussed with my family.

"The burning question I had - after, and even just as a young child - was why did he choose me? That was something that still stays with me to this day."

He had questions: "Was there something wrong with me? did he see that? I suppose it was the added kicker of me being gay as well. Did he see that before anyone else did?".

Even with having a good family, there was no way to be able to gracefully deal with this stuff, he said.

Grooming "the bread and butter" for offenders

Mr Jeffrey said only 1 to 5 percent of sex crimes against males were reported.

"Our research suggests that at least 15 percent of males in NZ - about one in six - is abused at some time in their life. A reporting rate of one in 20 is disproportionate to the population."

He said it came down to grooming, which was "the bread and butter" for offenders.

Offenders looked out for vulnerable children, and then grooming began, Mr Jeffrey said.

He said children even at a very young age could tell the difference between right and wrong.

"The critical thing that usually affects people is the shame."

So, when a child could tell something wasn't right, but the perpetrator told them it was fine, they blamed themselves.

"That shame lasts until something is done - where people address it and work on their well being.

"It's very important to be believed. Because children are not naturally sexual beings, they don't really fully understand what's going on."

He said most often parents wouldn't be able to tell if something was wrong.

"The one thing parents can do is listen to their kids," and create a relationship where their kids can talk to them about anything.

"If you even wondering about your kids, just have the conversation."

Leaving Neverland aired in parts on TVNZ 1 on Sunday and Monday evenings.

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