Leaving Neverland is the story of how two young men and their close families came to terms with a terrible secret, kept for two decades: their sexual abuse as children by a man whom they deeply trusted and dearly loved.
The fact that their abuser was a mega-star gives Wade’s and James’ story a global interest and significance that it would not otherwise have had, but it’s a story that can happen anywhere. Leaving Neverland sheds light on a terrible kind of crime that causes untold pain to millions of children and families around the world.
All too often the abuse is kept secret for many years because the child is both deeply attached to the predator and terrified of the consequences of “coming out.”
Leaving Neverland deciphers the apparent enigma of why James and Wade lied to their parents and to the world for so long. In interviews, both acknowledge the strength of their love for Michael, while at the same time detailing how viciously he abused them as children, starting when Wade was 7 and James was 10.
From the opening minutes, the complex, contradictory nature of survivors’ responses to abuse by a grooming pedophile is a central theme in my documentary. It is a truth that emerges powerfully from the unflinching testimonies of Wade and James and their families. And it’s difficult to stomach. How could a child victim be in love with his abuser?
Child sexual abuse is complicated. Pedophiles rely on that internal conflict within their victims to remain undetected. So let us open our eyes to what Wade and James courageously reveal to us, and not judge the behavior of survivors before we’ve considered the complex nature of the crime.
My hope is that Leaving Neverland will become an enduring reference work for those seeking to better understand child sexual abuse; and an inspiration to other survivors out there who have an untold truth to tell.
For survivors struggling with their truth, or friends and family looking for more information, the following resources are here to help.
What is a healthy relationship? How do you recognize abuse? Learn more about how to speak to your children about sexual abuse and recognizing warning signs.
Find out how to recognize abuse, engage in prevention, and help students understand sexual violence.