In light of the new Micheal Jackson documentary “Leaving Neverland,” child abuse and abuse, in general, has again come to the forefront of media. Unfortunately, as pointed out in an Oprah special, the focus remains on whether Jackson did it — the wrong focus for such a widespread issue.
There seems to be little point in debating something that can never be proven definitively. Instead, I believe this is an important opportunity to learn more about abuse, the psychological effects on the victims and how we, as a society, can support them.
Those who defend Jackson ask questions like, “If it’s true, why would they support him in court?” “Why would they cry at his funeral? Continue to see him until his death?” These questions both shame and confuse survivors and are far too simplistic.
Abuse violates a person in a psychological way just as strongly as it does physically. Firstly, most victims know, trust and even love their abuser. It is extremely hard for a victim, especially a child, to view their offender as “all bad” when other positive experiences are also connected to the offender. Furthermore, they are often groomed to believe they are special for getting the “treatment” they are given and feel important for being given a secret to keep. The victim may take these feelings of love towards their offender to question whether they were truly abused or deserve to speak out.
As the documentary spells out at the end, even the victims of his alleged abuse do not see Jackson as all bad. He was, in their eyes, a kind and generous human while also being cruel and selfish with actions that almost ruined their lives.
These questions can be transferred to abuse cases such as rape cases in college halls or domestic and emotional abuse within the home, where often the relationship with the abuser continues after the event. This simplification — that a person is either good or bad — is often an obstacle in the recovery of victims and society’s ability to understand, believe and sympathize. You can love someone who has done or said terrible things to you or given you traumatic memories if they have also made you feel special and loved.
The idea that someone should hate their abuser is an overly rational one that does not take the human condition into consideration and one that leads to further guilt and confusion. Abuse and traumatic experiences are not rational or black and white. We can still want to protect someone who has hurt us. It is a type of victim-shaming and blaming that needs to end.
If one understood you can see your abuser as both good or bad, that you can be groomed, feel both love and hate, etc., maybe survivors wouldn’t feel so scared to come forward or so conflicted about their experiences.
I think the takeaway message from this subject being brought to the surface is not to discuss the actions of a man that will never be able to be proven as definitive but to gain a further understanding that abuse is a complex situation to go through and process.
We may not ever truly understand what it is like to be in their shoes, but we can begin to sympathize when we realize that, like many other issues in life and mental health, the feelings, thoughts and experiences are often paradoxical. The focus shouldn’t be on understanding this paradox but on healing and moving forward, keeping in mind that every survivor reacts differently on different timelines. This timeline should never be used to test their credibility.