Confession: I haven’t watched either Leaving Neverland orSurvivingR. Kelly. The information I had prior to the release of either documentary was enough for me to believe that both Michael Jackson and R. Kelly raped children. And after reading graphic descriptions of Jackson’s victims’ accounts when the Leaving Neverland was announced, I vomited. I’ll continue my practice of avoiding the details and descriptions of violent sexual acts committed on children.
That said, the only temptation to watch either documentary comes from my desire to know what the parents of these two men’s victims have to say about how they allowed these grown men the kind of access to their children that their heinous crimes required. In the current climate, it seems that assigning partial blame to the parents whose most important responsibility is protecting their children is often dismissed as victim-blaming. However, when parents not only fail to ensure that their children are guarded against potential harm wherever possible but enable, arrange, assist in and perhaps even ignore their children’s abuse, they are not victims but coconspirators.
I watched Michael Jackson himself admit to Ed Bradley that he thought there was nothing wrong with “sharing” his bed with children. “The most loving thing you can do is to share your bed with someone,” Bradley quoted Jackson. When asked if he still believed the most loving thing you can do is share your bed with a child, Jackson replied, “Of course.” He later stated that he did not sleep in the bed with the children but on the floor beside the bed, adding that caveat as if that made his sleeping in close proximity to children he was not the father less inappropriate.
Leaving Neverland aside, we have confirmation that minimally Michael Jackson slept in the same room with children who were not his own. There is no instance imaginable where an adult could take such enthusiastic interest in my child that he would seek to have my child not only sleep at his home but sleep in his bedroom with him. And there is no amount of fandom and admiration that would make me believe that a fully-grown man would have such obsessive interest in my child that he would want to have him in his presence as a companion without any duplicitous intentions.
The same goes for R. Kelly and Aaliyah. It was many years ago, perhaps 20, when I first heard that Kelly had forged documents to marry a 15-year-old Aaliyah when he was 27. Reportedly, the two were illegally married in Chicago and the annulment took several months. I cannot imagine any instance where I would be so blinded by the promise of stardom for my daughter that I would allow a man 12 years her senior to travel freely with her, have her in his home and otherwise give an adult male free reign with my baby.
Now certainly, there are instances when parents have done all they can to keep their children inaccessible to predators both potential and known. In no way would a parent whose child is sexually abused by an adult whose access is customary and necessary hold any responsibility beyond making sure the culpable party is punished and that the child receives the love and counseling crucial to successful recovery. The reports of the aforementioned men are not those of adults who needed the kind of access they had to their victims though, and thus, the parents must be held accountable for their part.
So while Kelly and Jackson are certainly inescapably liable for their crimes and moral reprehensibility, the parents of these children, who sought the favor of celebrities must also be indicated as responsible for neglecting their most important duty. But for the negligence of parents who failed to use their common sense in questioning why grown men would need to share rooms and beds with their children or who looked the other way because the money was too good or who traded their children’s safety and bodies for cash, trips and other material spoils, these men, no matter how vile and predatory they were, would not have had the opportunity to violate children. If the parents had properly supervised their children and made it clear to Jackson and Kelly that they as parents would always be involved in any business, rehearsals and studio sessions, that their children would never be permitted to travel without their parents, that no unsupervised relationships could blossom with their children, how could these men have abused them?
Contrary to rhetoric which considers it unproductive and blaming the victim to implicate parents who enabled the abuse and consequent trauma of their children by not doing the minimum we require of parents, which is to protect their offspring at all costs, conversations about children being abused in situations where the parents properly parenting could have most likely prevented the child’s abuse should harshly condemn the parents. A part of us making this world safe for children is holding parents responsible for shielding their own children. That part matters as much as smoking out and punishing anyone who abuses a child.