Wade Robson shocked the world with his recent announcement that he was a victim of child sexual abuse at the hands of late pop icon Michael Jackson. Perhaps the most startling aspect of this statement was the fact that Robson vehemently supported Jackson during his 2005 molestation trial and after Jackson’s death in 2009 stated, “Michael Jackson changed the world and, more personally, my life forever. He is the reason I dance, the reason I make music, and one of the main reasons I believe in the pure goodness of human kind.”
Robson appeared on the TODAY this morning to tell his side of the story. Some saw a person freeing himself from his past. Some saw a person looking to cash in on Jackson’s estate. Some saw a “traitor” who defiled the name of the man who made him. We saw the high-profile version of a situation that is all too common. Wade Robson’s is not a new story; in fact, it is a nearly textbook case of predatory grooming, sexual abuse, and the resulting trauma. We commend his brave decision to stand up and speak out about his experience.
Some are asking, why didn’t Robson tell someone about the sexual abuse when he was a child? About 73% of children do not tell anyone about sexual abuse for a year or more. Many never tell. Others are adults before they feel comfortable talking about the abuse. Disclosures can be preceded by years of denial – both to the public and to the self. Why? Because the grooming process works, and works well.
Jackson was a larger-than-life icon who took a special interest in Robson, featured him in music videos, and established his career. In 90% of child sexual abuse cases, children are abused by someone they know and love. Robson said, “From day one of the abuse, Michael told me that we loved each other and that this was love, that this was an expression of our love. And then you follow that up with ‘but if you ever tell anyone what we’re doing, both of our lives and our career will be over.’” The erosion of sexual boundaries, the veiled threats, the shared secret – all are classic examples of grooming behaviors.
Then why, as an adult, did Robson lie about the abuse? Why didn’t he help the child who accused Jackson of molestation? Quite simply, because he loved Michael Jackson. Because he was still being groomed by Jackson, who called him every day of the trial to “role play” and reinforce the shared secret. Because Jackson recreated the shame and fear caused by the abuse, convincing Robson they would both go to jail. Abuse victims don’t necessarily want to end the relationship with their abusers, or to see them harmed or punished. They just want the abuse itself to end. The likely truth is that Robson had not yet faced the truth and was incapable of acting as an advocate for himself, much less anyone else.
Most people think of abuse as a physically painful process. With child sexual abuse, this is not always the case. There are often no visible signs of child sexual abuse, and victims can appear to be happy and successful, both as children and as adults. The emotional trauma caused by child sexual abuse, however, can last a lifetime if not addressed. Robson’s breakdowns following the birth of his son were very possibly the first outward manifestations of the damage caused by Jackson. We applaud him for having the courage to come forward and share his story. As he stated, “I want to say to those victims that under NO circumstances was it or is it EVER your decision or your fault that you were sexually abused. Please find a way to safely speak your truth because the healing process cannot begin until you do. It is not easy in the slightest but it is absolutely possible to heal and get your life back.”