The mothers of the two accusers in HBO’s Leaving Neverland said they were lulled by Michael Jackson’s forlorn demeanor and fairytale world when they allowed him to take their boys into his bed.
An aunt who introduced her underage niece to R. Kelly and suspects abuse said in the six-part Surviving R. Kelly docuseries on Lifetime that she hoped the embattled star would propel the teen’s music career. She alleges the girl wound up on a sex tape instead.
The parents of a 12-year-old girl kidnapped twice and chronically abused over several years by a trusted neighbor in Idaho called themselves “naive” in the Netflix documentary on the bizarre 1970s ordeal, Abducted in Plain Sight.
The trio of high-profile cases, the latest in a long line of media fare focused on child abuse over the years, have generated intense scrutiny of the people who should matter most to kids: their parents.
For those in these sad and painful documentaries, support and understanding have been abundant among strangers, abuse survivors and advocates fighting sexual violence. However, some viewers and commenters online, likely many who know nothing of how sexual abusers groom their victims, can’t fathom how any parent could allow a child to be placed in the intensely vulnerable situations depicted.
There were missed red flags. Mistakes made and acknowledged. There were professional ambitions to be pursued for their starry-eyed kids, murky monetary payments and plenty of perks. And there was lots of regret once their children disclosed.
Experts, abuse survivors and their supporters said that when young victims are groomed by perpetrators, so, too, are their parents in a vast majority of cases that don’t include such crimes committed by parents themselves.
“The basic facts are that somebody who’s intent on sexually abusing a child does actually groom both a child and a caregiver,” said Esther Deblinger-Sosland, who has written two books on the subject and is a psychology professor and co-director of the Child Abuse Research Education Service Institute at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.
“They’re looking for situations and families that they can exploit. Any child can be sexually abused. That has to be put out there. It really could happen to any child. But when an offender is really looking to target a child, they do look for a child that might be more vulnerable, from a family that they think they might be able to manipulate in some way,” she said.
Parents may be coping with stresses and adversities that distract them, Deblinger-Sosland explained, but at the same time, “most people don’t assume anyone who talks articulately, who appears to be friendly and caring, is a sex offender.”
Child sex offenders, she said, are often viewed by society as the “most heinous criminals,” she said. “If you have that image of a sex offender then it’s unlikely, whoever you are, to just look at someone and assume that they’re going to sexually abuse your child. And that’s what’s so difficult.”
Jackson, who died in 2009, was found not guilty in a 2005 trial of 14 charges alleging he had molested a boy, at times in the presence of the boy’s brother. While acknowledging that he befriended numerous children, including some he invited into his bed, he denied molesting any. His two accusers in Leaving Neverland allege that they were 7 and 10 when the abuse began. Now in their 30s, they appear in the docuseries with their mothers.
Loyal Jackson relatives and fans object to the one-sided nature of the unsparing two-part documentary, which aired March 3-4 and is HBO’s third most-watched documentary of the past decade.
The R. Kelly series aired over three nights in January. By late February, he had turned himself in on 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse involving four victims, including at least three between the ages of 13 and 17. He denies the charges. A jury in 2008 acquitted Kelly of 14 counts of child pornography after concluding they couldn’t verify a female in a sex video with the singer was underage.
Two women currently live with Kelly in Chicago and say they are his girlfriends, including 21-year-old Azriel Clary. Both have said in interviews they are willingly by his side, but their parents remain unconvinced.
“I feel like I failed my daughter because I should have saw different signs,” Clary’s father, Angelo Clary, told Gayle King on CBS This Morning.
He added: “I should have saw the change in my baby girl instead of the love that we instilled in her, that she was showing us and putting on a charade. So, guess what? We can take responsibility. But to the world, how much responsibility did R. Kelly take?”
As for Jan Broberg Felt, the now 56-year-old survivor who appears with her parents in Abducted in Plain Sight, the neighbor who sexually abused her died in an apparent suicide decades later. During her teen years, he slowly drew both of her small-town, churchgoing parents into situations he knew they would be ashamed to reveal, including having sex with the mother and convincing the father to perform a sex act on him.
Shaming or condemning the parents of child victims is one of those things “offenders exactly want to happen,” said Deblinger-Sosland and other experts. “They want the blame to be not on them.”
A majority of offenders are known to child victims and their families. When a child discloses sexual abuse, Deblinger-Sosland said, they often do so to their mothers. Years after that happened in the case of James Safechuck, one of the Jackson accusers, his mother, Stephanie Safechuck, said in Leaving Neverland of their years in the superstar’s life:
“This was all so overwhelming, and like a fairytale, and I got lost in it. And I know my husband got lost in it, too.”
Although statistics vary, generally 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault by an adult, according to the nonprofit RAINN, for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
In fiscal year 2016 alone, child protective services agencies substantiated or found strong evidence to indicate that more than 57,000 children were victims of sexual abuse in the U.S., the organization said. That, experts said, is just a small portion of such cases overall.
Psychologist David Wolfe of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University in London, Ontario, also works as an expert witness in mostly civil court cases involving child sexual abuse allegations.
Whether they’re dealing with a trusted coach, priest or neighbor, Wolfe said, parents of victims are making decisions as abuse plays out based on non-threatening interactions with a perpetrator, or in the case of Safechuck and others, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for their children.
In 1986, when he was 10, Safechuck was chosen to appear in a Pepsi commercial with Jackson. The psychology involved for parents in such a scenario is common, Wolfe said.
“I put myself in that position and think, what would I have felt like if my son was the one that was in the commercial and gets invited to Neverland?” he said. “I would have thought that was pretty cool, I’d like to do that. At what point does a parent say, maybe this isn’t the way I thought it was. Maybe he wants something that I didn’t see. It’s very tough to go back on your decision and say I’ve been led down a path here. Someone else may point it out and say, are you sure you want your kid over there? You’re going to defend your choice because otherwise you’d look stupid.”
Robin Gurwitch, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, is an expert in understanding and supporting children in the aftermath of trauma and disasters. In the case of high-profile child sexual abuse perpetrators, the feeling of being singled out for special treatment — parents and children alike — makes parents vulnerable to missing warning signs that might seem obvious to others, she said.
“As a family member, I may not see any of those red flags because this is somebody that I respect, this is somebody that I trust, this is somebody who on the surface says I’m only interested in what’s best for your children, plus I think you’re an incredible parent for helping your child achieve their goals,” she said.
“Parents are trusting of people who are important in their child’s life.”
Janelle Monáe Leads The Revolution In Stirring ‘Turntables’ Video
YouTube “We are in the middle of a revolution right? What’s a revolution without a song and a song without a revolution.” That’s the question the Grammy-winning artist Janelle Monáe posed to Entertainment Weekly when describing her latest single, “Turntables.” The song was released on and flips between cleverly rapped lines about “liberation, elevation, education” and a harmonic…
“We are in the middle of a revolution right? What’s a revolution without a song and a song without a revolution.”
That’s the question the Grammy-winning artist Janelle Monáe posed to Entertainment Weekly when describing her latest single, “Turntables.” The song was released on and flips between cleverly rapped lines about “liberation, elevation, education” and a harmonic refrain with clear gospel influences. It’s Monáe’s take on a contemporary protest song, a call for a political sea change, in the vein of, say, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” or Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”
Courtesy of Atlantic RecordsAnd on Tuesday (September), Monáe released a moving music video — or, as she calls it, an emotion picture — that solidified that message. The visual opens and closes with the singer walking along the beach in a beige trench coat and military cap. At times, she can be seen singing into a retro microphone before an American flag; in others, she moves through staged breakfast scenes, with a family reading through newspaper headlines as they mouth her lyrics. The visual flashes through archival and contemporary footage depicting inspirational figures past and present: Where one scene shows the model and activist Jillian Mercado at a photo shoot, another depicts a conversation with lifelong activist Angela Davis.
What rings true without is a hopeful cry for change and for equality, and a recognition of those who have been leading that fight for decades. Monáe wrote “Turntables” for the new Amazon Studios documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy, that shines a light on voter suppression, particularly through the lens of Stacey Abrams’s failed bid for the Georgia governorship. “Right now, I am focused on turning the election in our favor,” Monáe told Entertainment Weekly, “and I hope this song can inspire those who are on the ground doing the work.”
Joe Keery’s Reinvention, Mxmtoon’s Carly Rae Jepsen Collab, And More Songs We Love
Getty Images/April Blum The search for the ever-elusive “bop” is difficult. Playlists and streaming-service recommendations can only do so much. They often leave a lingering question: Are these songs really good, or are they just new? Enter Bop Shop, a hand-picked selection of songs from the MTV News team. This weekly collection doesn’t discriminate by…
Getty Images/April Blum
The search for the ever-elusive “bop” is difficult. Playlists and streaming-service recommendations can only do so much. They often leave a lingering question: Are these songs really good, or are they just new?
Enter Bop Shop, a hand-picked selection of songs from the MTV News team. This weekly collection doesn’t discriminate by genre and can include anything — it’s a snapshot of what’s on our minds and what sounds good. We’ll keep it fresh with the latest music, but expect a few oldies (but goodies) every once in a while, too. Get ready: The Bop Shop is now open for business.
St. Vincent ft. Yoshiki: “New York”
St. Vincent, the intuitive musical goddess that she is, must have sensed our collective need for another quarantine ballad. Enter “New York [Feat. Yoshiki],” a classical arrangement of the standout single from 2017’s Masseduction. An added string section courtesy of Yoshiki, a Japanese multi-instrumentalist, beautifully complements the song’s original piano instrumentals. What more can I say? “New York isn’t New York / Without you, love” just hits different in the middle of a pandemic. —Sam Manzella
Djo: “Keep Your Head Up”
Last year, Joe Keery (of Stranger Things fame) released a glossy solo album under the moniker Djo. It was titled Twenty Twenty, and its sparkling arrangements ended up being quite far removed from the overall vibe of 2020 the year, but who could fault him for his optimism? Keery has also long been a contributing member of Chicago psych band Post Animal, but Djo is simply Joe — and latest “Keep Your Head Up” feels like several Joes ripping open a vortex in the funk-time continuum. This is a groove, peppered with buzzy synths and icy falsetto and an honest-to-god sax part. It’s akin to Todd Terje doing Tame Impala, a lightheaded cocktail rush that feels both clubby and bedroom ambitious. Positively galactic. —Patrick Hosken
Mxmtoon ft. Carly Rae Jepsen: “OK On Your Own”
When Mxmtoon’s Maia said she recorded “OK On Your Own” for the girls and the gays, she wasn’t kidding. The mellow bedroom-pop bop soundtracks a journey of self-reflection after a breakup, complete with the soft ukulele instrumentals that put the 19-year-old singer-songwriter on the map. Is it revelatory? No, but with pop icon Carly Rae Jepsen lending her sugary-sweet vocals to the second verse, it doesn’t have to be. Now I’m just waiting for “Party for Two.” —Sam Manzella
Video Age: “Aerostar”
Pleasure Line, the third album from emerging indie pop quartet Video Age, delivers perfectly escapist ’80s new wave vibes for when you need to get outta 2020 for just a moment. “Aerostar” is its punchy center, a hip-twisting, shoulder-shuffling groove that delivers quirky robot dance commands (“Slide to the left, now! Shimmy to the right!”) over hoppin’ funk synths and a kickin’ drum machine. It all harkens to a simpler time, one where dance floors were actually a real thing. Oh, the ’80s! —Terron Moore
Ruel: “As Long As You Care”
About a year ago, Australian middle-part heartthrob Ruel told MTV News that for him, “songwriting is exaggerating to an extent.” On his latest, the technicolor, soulful “As Long As You Care,” his exaggeration is so seamless, you’d be forgiven for believing the 17-year-old is actually a time traveler. The neo-soul groove he rides propels everything upward, even as the sound cheekily looks backward. “As Long As You Care” has one amazing hook, coupled with sonic candy that makes his upcoming third EP, Bright Lights, Red Eyes (out October 23) one to watch. —Patrick Hosken
Alycia Bella ft. Boogie: “Cue the Sun”
Something magical happens two-and-a-half minutes into “Cue the Sun,” the exploratory new collab between striking R&B voice Alycia Bella and rapper Boogie. After piping in the aural equivalent of stage smoke via jazzy piano and gorgeous vocalizations — “It feel like being lost in the right direction” — Bella’s song enters a more sparkly realm for Boogie’s recitations. By the end, you’re lighter, like your mind’s been cleared of all the cobwebs. Cue the sun. —Patrick Hosken
Carly Rae Jepsen
Who Are You Most Excited to See Perform at the 2020 ACM Awards? Vote!
The 55th Academy of Country Music Awards will welcome back Taylor Swift and present a new collaboration from the evening’s host Keith Urban and P!nk on Wednesday, Sept. 16. But which one of the highly anticipated performances are you counting down the hours to? Nine-time ACM Award winner Swift, whose latest studio album Folklore has topped the Billboard 200 for six…
The 55th Academy of Country Music Awards will welcome back Taylor Swift and present a new collaboration from the evening’s host Keith Urban and P!nk on Wednesday, Sept. 16. But which one of the highly anticipated performances are you counting down the hours to?
Nine-time ACM Award winner Swift, whose latest studio album Folklore has topped the Billboard 200 for six weeks, will come back for the first time in seven years to perform the country-leaning fan-favorite track “Betty.” Meanwhile, 15-time ACM Award winner Urban and Pink will come together for the world television premiere of their brand new collaboration “One Too Many,” which is from the country star’s forthcoming album, The Speed of Now, Part 1.
Billboard broke the news Monday (Sept. 14) that all five nominees for entertainer of the year — Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett — will take the stage to perform a medley of their greatest hits. Additionally, ACM’s freshly crowned new male and female artist of the year winners Riley Green and Tenille Townes, respectively, will also perform.
For the first time in the awards show’s history, the ACMs will be broadcast live from Nashville, with socially distanced performances from the Grand Ole Opry House, the historic Ryman Auditorium and The Bluebird Cafe.
The 55th ACM Awards will air live Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 8 p.m. ET (delayed for the West Coast) on CBS and CBS All Access. (The event is produced by dick clark productions, which shares a parent company with Billboard.)
So which of the performances can’t you wait to see? Vote below!