Wade Robson and James Safechuck talk about defending Jackson in his sexual abuse trials and why they reversed course in recent years with allegations against Jackson.
The first part of HBO's bombshell docuseries "Leaving Neverland" explored explicit and disturbing allegations of sexual abuse against Michael Jackson by two men who knew him well as young boys. This concluding chapter follows that narrative through their lives to see how this alleged abuse has impacted their families, their mental health and their safety.
Director Dan Reed spoke extensively with Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who both knew Michael Jackson well and for many years starting when they were young boys. Both shared a very public friendship with the self-proclaimed King of Pop, but this was the story of their alleged relationship behind closed doors.
To frame the story, Reed spoke with members of both men's families, including parents, siblings and, starting in this episode, their spouses. He did not speak with anyone with an opposing viewpoint, including two of the boys who continue to maintain Jackson never abused them: Macauley Culkin and Brett Barnes.
Robson went on record during Michael Jackson's 2005 trial on child sexual abuse charges and said Jackson had never assaulted him. In 2013, he reversed his position. Safechuck, also previously publicly denied he had been abused by Jackson.
It is because of these earlier testimonies that the Jackson estate has spoken out against HBO's newest series and filed a $100 million lawsuit, saying in a press release, "The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred. They have provided no independent evidence and absolutely no proof in support of their accusations."
Jackson maintained his innocence until his death on all charges and allegations of inappropriate behavior with children. It wasn't until after he was gone that Robson changed his story publicly to say he had been abused. Safechuck, upon seeing Robson speak on television about alleged abuse at the hands of Jackson, also chose to come forward with his own story.
The pair have come under the same kind of criticism, including threats, from Jackson fans as previous accusers. And like those earlier cases, they are being accused of targeting Jackson for financial gain. Robson did file suit in 2013, but it was ruled he had filed too late to get any damages. The judge did not rule on the credibility of his allegations.
Safechuck followed Robson's suit with one of his own a year later but his suit was also thrown out, though their lawyer, Vince Finaldi, told the AP in January the suits were tossed on technical grounds. Those suits have been appealed.
According to Safechuck, agreeing to this documentary series was not about trying to convince anyone to change their minds about Jackson. "I just set out to talk to other survivors. And that’s something that I can do," he told Rolling Stone. "But changing somebody’s mind about Michael is a really unhealthy goal. If that’s the point of doing the movie, you’re setting yourself up to be really disappointed."
Robson told the magazine that it's about having these kinds of uncomfortable conversations. "We have to talk about the scary and the nasty stuff," he told RS. "That’s the only way it’s going to change."
The First Lie
According to Wade Robson, all of his statements prior to 2013 were lies, and his first public one came at a young age when Jordan Chandler was the first to come forward with allegations of abuse against Jackson. That case would eventually settle out of court for $10 million, but not before Robson defended his friend and mentor.
Robson said that he'd actually met Chandler during a sleepover at Michael's house with Macaulay Culkin, Chandler and himself. It's worth noting at this point that Reed did not attempt to speak with Chandler or Culkin for this documentary, or anyone outside of the families of Robson and Safechuck who could corroborate or deny their stories.
When asked directly if he had ever been abused, Robson answered with no hesitation. "This was terrifying right from the get. This was the first time anyone directly asked me, ‘Did Michael Jackson ever touch you sexually?' Or anything like that," he said. "Without flinching, without batting an eyelash, my answer was no. No way. Absolutely not."
It would become a familiar refrain, as this was his answer to this question to everyone from public officials to his own family members, his therapist and eventually even his wife.
But according to Wade, especially in those earlier years, he was operating from a place of love for Jackson still. "I was excited by the idea of being able to defend him, of being able to save him," he said of testifying that first time when he was eleven years old.
"I don’t have any guilt about not being able to tell the truth," he said. "I had no choice but to say what I did in that deposition when I was eleven. That was what I had to say."
Robson claims that even after that first trial against Jackson, he maintained a sexual relationship with him. "It felt good to be wanted in that way again," Robson said of how he felt at eleven years old when Jackson would make time for him.
According to Robson, the alleged abuse continued well into his teens, detailing a specific encounter when he was 14 years old and dropped in to see Jackson's rehearsals for his "HIStory" world tour.
"I’ve had a major growth spurt. So I’m 5’11”, so the same or taller than Michael," he said. "Just a whole different physical vibe." Nevertheless, Robson claims he and Jackson returned to Jackson's hotel room and things again got allegedly sexual between them.
"At some point in the night we slipped back into the routine, the same sort of sexual stuff," he said, before making another disturbing allegation. "But what ended up happening was Michael tried to penetrate me in my anus with his penis."
According to Robson this alleged act was another escalation from Jackson.
Best Friends Again
Both Robson and Safechuck say that their contact with Jackson had diminished to almost nothing before those first allegations went public. At that point, they said they and their families started hearing from Jackson daily or nearly daily again.
Robson's eventual wife Amanda recalled that kind of incessant communication after the 2003 allegations came out. "In the time that I was with Wade, he didn’t hear from Michael a lot," Amanda said. "Michael all of a sudden started to reach out to him, but it was like every day."
The same thing allegedly happened with Safechuck, who said, "He had been pretty absent from my life and then he’s back in it because he needs something, he needs you to testify." But like Robson, Safechuck said he was happy for the attention, happy to feel special again.
Driven to Suicide
While not directly related to the allegations of abuse levied against Jackson, both Robson and his siblings have placed some of the blame on Jackson's feet for the breakup of their family. It was his lure of helping Robson that convinced Joy to pack up her youngest son and daughter and move to LA, leaving her eldest son and husband behind.
According to the documentary, Robson's father never really recovered from the loss of his family. He suffered from bipolar disorder and apparently spiraled downward over the next few years. It was when eldest brother Shane made the decision to move to L.A. for six months to spend time with the family that their father took his own life.
"“I remember Dad didn’t say a word, just nothing at all. He was kind of like a statue, staring off in the distance," Shane recalled of the day he left Australia.
Joy added, "The day that he left, his father hung himself."
By this point Robson was 21 or 22 years old and said he had no interest in testifying again when Garvin Arvizo's case against Jackson began to move forward.
"At some point I worked up the courage to tell Michael that I don’t want to testify," Robson said. "I remember silence on the phone for awhile. He said, ‘I understand. I understand it’s really hard and it’s tough to go through this with all the media and everything, but we can’t let them do this to us. We can’t let them take us down. Us, us, us."
Safechuck recalled a different response from Jackson when he also said he had no interest in testifying on his behalf the second time around. "He got really angry at me and he threatened me," he claimed. "I’d never seen him this angry, it was more like, ‘Okay, you’re an enemy now. He threatened me with his lawyers and said that I had perjured myself years ago and he has the best lawyers in the world, that they were going to get me.”
It's All About the Money
Jackson claimed publicly during both cases against him that the families were only after him for his money. According to Robson and Safechuck, he painted those same pictures for their families, and both families were certainly convinced at least the first time around.
Especially after the Chandlers settled out of court for $10 million. "People said to me, that just proves he’s guilty and I would say, no. That, to me, proves that all it was about all along was money," Robson's mother Joy said. "How much money would make it okay for your child to be abused? 10 million? No. 20 million? Maybe. I said, to me, no amount of money would make that okay. If I thought that he had touched my son, I would not stop until he was behind bars."
Robson's sister Chantel says she now understands both sides of that argument as she used to make that argument that these people were only in it for the money. "Now being on the other side of it, I understand why people are saying that to me, but at the same time, it’s like I’m awake now," she said. "I see the reality and I see the truth and the pattern of what happened and that it happened to my brother. But I feel so bad for every little boy prior that tried to talk and got shut up really fast.”
Michael's Obsession with Britney Spears
By his late teens, Wade Robson was making a name for himself in the entertainment business as a choreographer and had landed the job of creative director for Britney Spears' "Dream Within a Dream" tour. And according to Robson, Jackson was very interested in Spears.
"Michael had some sort of obsession with Britney and he would call me and he would want to know what it was like working with her and what was she like. Isn’t she sexy? Isn’t she beautiful?" Robson said. "Wondering if I can set up like a way for them to meet."
At this point, Robson talks as if he was looking to evolve his relationship with Michael into a more mature friendship, but things were apparently awkward between them. "in those conversations as well, Michael was really interested in my sexual life with girls," Robson said. "I remember that just being really weird, considering Michael and my whole sexual history."
"There’s a weird pull because while at the same time I still loved him deeply. Maybe one day I was going to be the friend for him that he could have a real, honest, vulnerable conversation with, the one person that he could really be real with."
The Second Lie
Despite allegedly telling Jackson he had no interest in testifying again on his behalf, Robson did just that. And again he said that Jackson had never molested him or acted in appropriately in any way.
"The idea of this truth coming out and Amanda knowing about it and my family knowing about it and everybody in the entertainment business, in my career, knowing about it, I mean was just a ridiculous idea that was never going to happen in my mind," he said of his testimony. "Because in my mind, my whole life would be over."
Looking back now, Robson believes he just wasn't ready or strong enough yet to face his truth.
The hardest part for both men and their families about coming forward with these allegations now is that they didn't do more to help other young boys they also believe were victimized by Jackson.
"I can’t imagine if I was Gavin or if I was Jordyn at that time. You know, no justice being served and not being believed by so many people. For Gavin, I wish I was at a place where I could tell the truth and be a comrade with him, you know, stopping Michael and stopping a lot of other kids from being abused. I just wasn’t ready. I wasn’t able when I was 11 and when I was 22.
Both men claim it took them years to come to terms with their own alleged experiences with Jackson and to truly understand them as abuse.
"I didn’t believe or understand that the sexual stuff that happened between Michael and I was abuse," Robson said of his allegations. "I didn’t feel hurt by it, that it was anything bad that happened to me. At that point, it was, I loved Michael, Michael loved me, this was something that happened between us, that’s it."
"Secrets will eat you up," Safechuck said. "It sucks life out of you. Just deteriorates you from the inside. Like a part of you is dead. ... It took a lot of effort to keep it together. And then I would go home and be a wreck."
Even today, Safechuck says he's still struggling with his feelings for Jackson. "Michael does things to you that are not healthy, but you still have love for him," he said. "So it’s really hard to have those two feelings together. I still today am grappling with that."
Through Their Own Children
Another parallel shared between both men is how fatherhood helped them to grapple with their own feelings about their alleged sexual relationships with Jackson. It opened their eyes more clearly to how innocent a young child is and that changed everything.
"At this point, [my son] Koa is a year and a half. I start to have these images of the kind of sexual stuff that happened between Michael and I happening to Koa," Robson said. "And seeing Michael doing it to Koa, what he did to me, and my immediate emotional reaction to having those images is just this rage and disgust and violent feeling."
He went on to say, "What I started thinking was how can I have such clear negative feelings about the idea of that sexual stuff happening to Koa but when I think about Michael and I and all that sexual stuff going on, I don’t feel anything?"
"I think the abuse symptoms intensify when you have kids," Safechuck said. "It ramps up more. You see how innocent the kids are. I think having kids kind of shoves that in your face."
It was only after this experience within himself that Robson made the decision to finally open up about the alleged abuse. He did so first with his therapist and then with his family.
The people who've taken the most heat in this story from those who do believe the allegations against Jackson are the parents of these boys. Armchair critics are more than happy to cast aspersions and assume that they would have seen it, they would know better if it were their kids.
And the most common refrain from the public is shock that any mother would allow their child to sleep in the same bed with a stranger, or really any adult.
Chantel Robson was terrified for her mother finding out. "I was really scared for my mom. I was afraid that my mom would commit suicide, because it’s not like it was uncommon for me," she said. "But I was afraid that my mom would do something to herself because of the shame of her not knowing."
"I don’t know what else I could have done, but whatever it is, I wish I had," Joy Robson said. And as for Michael Jackson, "Maybe I can forgive him at some point if I try to understand that he was sick, but forgiving myself is another thing. I don’t know if I will ever do that."
Stephanie Safechuck has all these wonderful memories of the time she spent in Jackson's orbit, but, "My son had to suffer for me to live this life."
"He took my son’s childhood away. He took the man he could have been away, "she claimed. "He was a pedophile."
And that struggle goes beyond just the women themselves. Shane Robson indicated he may never be able to forgive his mother for what allegedly happened to Wade, and James said he's "still working on" trying not to blame his parents at least partially.
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