Before Michael Jackson died, it had become a standard joke among comedians: “Parents, please! Don’t let your kids stay overnight at Michael Jackson’s house.”
Duh-uh. Jackson has been dead now for more than 7 years, yet those jokes still keep coming home to roost.
Thirty-three-year-old Australian Wade Robeson— now a “celebrity choreographer”—is, according to The Hollywood Reporter, alleging that the late pop icon and his “close associates” used MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures—two of Jackson’s companies—as fronts “designed, developed and operated [as] what is likely the most sophisticated public child sexual abuse procurement and facilitation organization the world has known.”
Robson sued the companies in 2013 after undergoing psychotherapy after a break-down in 2012, alleging that he was sexually abused by Jackson as a child. Until this time, he hadn’t even acknowledged that he’d been sexually abused. A superior court judge ruled in May 2015 that the claim would be dismissed because Robson had waited too long to pursue legal action. Several months ago, though, Robson tapped attorney Vince Finaldi to amend the suit to include his most recent claims.
“MJJ PRODUCTIONS and MJJ VENTURES were held out to the public to be businesses dedicated to creating and distributing multimedia entertainment by MICHAEL JACKSON, however, in fact, they actually served dual purposes,” Finaldi wrote in the complaint. “The thinly-veiled, covert second purpose of these businesses was to operate as a child sexual abuse operation, specifically designed to locate, attract, lure and seduce child sexual abuse victims.”
Robson first met Jackson when he was just five years old, after winning a dance competition that was run by MJJ Productions in Robson’s native Australia. Jackson must have been taken with the little boy because he told his mother that if they were ever in the US they should look him up. In 1989, Robson’s family took a trip to California’s Disneyland. The complaint states that Robson’s mother set up a meeting with Jackson’s assistant, Norma Staikos, who is described in the legal complaint as “a ‘madam’ or ‘procurer.’” Robson’s family was then invited to stay at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, where the then-7-year-old Robson shared a bed with Jackson. (His family stayed in a separate room.) Robson claims that it was during that weekend that Jackson first abused him.
The graphically-detailed complaint describes encounters ranging from French kissing to penetrative sex. Robson claims the abuse continued until he was 14, but became less frequent when he “began showing signs of puberty” and Jackson was “no longer as interested in him sexually.”
Robson actually testified in defense of Jackson during a civil suit, as well as during the singer’s 2005 criminal trial. In the run-up to his testimony, Robson claims that Jackson called him frequently and “‘brain washed’ him into being a ‘good soldier.’” At that time, Robson testified that Jackson did not abuse him. He now claims that he did not believe he was abused until after he entered psychotherapy in 2012, after suffering a nervous breakdown.
Now the case is set to go to trial on March 13, 2017. Jackson’s estate has not commented on the claims.
You’re probably asking yourself by now: “How credible are these allegations?” and “How could any parent give his/her permission for a child to spend the night with a suspected pedophile if things were not totally innocent and on the up-and-up?”
Since reading about Robson’s pending case, I read about one other case: the 1984 accusation and arrest for child molestation against John Clark Donahue, the artistic director of the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) of Minneapolis. Since the Minnesota Legislature extended the statute of limitations on abuse until May 24, 2016, eight plaintiffs have sued CTC and former staffers in cases stemming from the sex abuse scandal that engulfed the theater three decades ago. Buttressed by this second case—one with which I have a casual familiarity (I used to work for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which for a time was the home of CTC)—I will answer you that not only are the allegations credible, but in extraordinary circumstances, remarkable stuff happens that even involves the acquiescence of nominally good parents.
Of course, John Donahue had nowhere near the resources and fame of Michael Jackson, but like Jackson, he was seen by his community to be able to walk on water because of his creative brilliance, longevity, and fawning acolytes. So a “good guy” pedophile doesn’t even have to have amusement park rides in his yard if he can surround himself with enough enablers AND if he can devote enough time to grooming not only the kids but the parents.
When most people think about Michael Jackson’s sleepovers with children, they have in their mind a bunch of kids having a slumber party with Jackson in his bedroom, or Jackson sleeping on the floor or a cot while children took the bed. While this may have been the case on some occasions, when it came to Jackson’s friends, the boys with whom Jackson formed special attachments, Jackson above all else preferred to sleep one-on-one with them—often going to extraordinary lengths to make it happen.
And it happened a lot. By studying his testimony, we can ascertain that Wade spent over 300 nights alone with Jackson over seven years. Expanded to include the sleepovers of just two more boys, the total number is 850 one-on-one sleepovers. And even this is probably a fraction given the total number of children with whom Jackson is said to have slept.
Jackson’s strategy was disturbing and consistent. Whenever he traveled, he took families with him for a veneer of respectability, yet insisted on separating those families and having the boys stay in his room.
What has impressed me about both child abuse cases is the extraordinary amount of time each man devoted to cultivating their relationships with boys. For example, whenever they were back in Australia, Jackson spent hours on the phone with Wade, with Jackson calling at least once a week and sometimes more often. Yet the Robesons were not the only recipients of such attention. Jackson went to great lengths to spend one-on-one nights with many of his “special friends”: flying them in from overseas, taking them on trips, buying them gifts, keeping parents pacified, and making lengthy phone calls to “stay in touch.”
Jackson’s sexual proclivities cost him millions of dollars.
John Donahue, too, devoted prodigious amounts of energy to cultivating his inner circle. Said one theater staff member: “He would work on the kids for months—these were initial contacts—then he made gentle advances that he could later say were misinterpreted.” A great deal of time and effort expended for such busy men.
In both cases, too, there was ample evidence that parents and other adults knew what was going on.
In Michael Jackson’s case, if parents had any suspicions about Jackson, their judgement was clouded not just by Jackson’s manipulation, but hopelessly compromised by Jackson’s largesse. Parents and siblings were regularly chauffeured off to shopping malls with cash and credit cards and told to buy “whatever they want,” while Michael’s “special friends” remained at Neverland with Michael under his supervision.
In John Donahue’s case, a judge spent a week poring over the 1,000-page transcript of the grand-jury investigation of CTC, and in a statement at Donahue’s sentencing, the judge concluded that “collectively this community knew what was going on at Children’s Theatre.” In his view, the community refused to confront adult-adolescent sexuality at the theater because it was so enamored of the art Donahue produced.
The not-so-secret standing joke at CTC was: “How do you separate the men from the boys at CTC?” Answer: “With a crowbar.”
When CTC got good—and it got good very rapidly—it attracted not only poor kids from the neighborhood, but children and their wealthy parents from well-heeled suburbs. Those earliest patrons and board members became zealots for Donahue, said a former board president.
One staff member was quoted as saying: “A lot of parents knew what was going on there.” Parents pulled her aside, pleading with her to keep an eye on their children; friends had told them that their sons had been abused at CTC. If they feared for their children, she would ask, why didn’t they keep them out of CTC?
“‘This is a real prestigious theater company and it’s known all over the world, and I want my child to be part of it,'” she remembers parents responding.
In both cases, although each man caused great harm to their underaged victims, neither was a monster in the traditional sense of the word. They never grabbed children off the street in order to molest them, they never were vicious child rapists, and they certainly never felt it was their goal—in their minds—to ‘harm’ children in any way.
That is more the province of child molesters like Danny Heinrich, who set out to inflict harm on their victims.
Both men were “good guy” child molesters. They deliberately and consciously had a long-term plan to get close to boys and over a period of time make it seem normal for those young boys to share sexual relations with men much older than themselves.
Jackson convinced the parents, and the boys, that it was perfectly natural for him to have a boy in his bed for extended periods of time. He convinced parents to leave their sons in his care and not to bat an eye when they heard Jackson shared a bed with them. As you have seen, some parents even became vigorous defenders of the practice.
Most of these parental defenders were groomed over a period of time. The boys’ statements, where they say “nothing happened,” should be viewed with a degree of skepticism. Victims of “nice guy” pedophiles in most cases are reticent to admit molestation.
Ken Lanning, the FBI’s foremost expert on child sexual abuse, has this to say about such victims: Child-lover molesters almost never use violence for sex, said Lanning. Instead, they groom and seduce and manipulate and use cooperation to get what they want out of the child. “I can’t tell you how many cases where there are letters from the victim written to the accused, saying, ‘You’re the nicest person I ever met,’ or ‘You’ve been so good to me,’” said Lanning. Many victims don’t tell anyone of the inappropriate behavior because they are considered “compliant child victims.” “A child can’t legally consent to having sex, but some of them aren’t necessarily fighting him off,” said Lanning. “They’re developmentally immature, and later they feel ashamed and embarrassed that they cooperated in their victimization.”
Because victims of acquaintance exploitation usually have been carefully seduced and often do not realize they are victims, they repeatedly and voluntarily return to the offender. Society and the criminal-justice system have a difficult time understanding this. If a boy is molested by his neighbor, teacher, or clergy member, why does he “allow” it to continue? Most likely he may not initially realize he is a victim. Some victims are simply willing to trade sex for attention, affection, and gifts and do not believe they are victims. The sex itself might even be enjoyable. The offender may be treating them better than anyone has ever treated them before.
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