Surviving Neverland: Child Sex Abuse and Barbara Streisand’s ignorance
Actress Barbara Streisand shocked fans and sexual abuse survivors on Friday. Bab’s made tone-deaf comments about two male survivors featured in the recent HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland.”
James Safechuck and Wade Robson allege that Michael Jackson groomed and molested them as children.
In an interview with the Times of London Streisand said,
“His sexual needs were his sexual needs, coming from whatever childhood he has or whatever DNA he has. You can say ‘molested,’ but those children, as you heard say, they were thrilled to be there. They both married and they both have children, so it didn’t kill them.”
Barbara Streisand’s comments ignited a firestorm of criticism from victims of childhood sexual abuse. Streisand’s remarks seemed to trivialize the pain and suffering victims of child abuse endure. Furthermore, she perpetuates the stigma that their trauma is somehow transitory.
Streisand has since “walked back” her comments. The singer also apologizing in a statement on Instagram:
Her apology has a less than favorable reception from the many victims and survivors she offended. Streisand’s initial comments and subsequent apology highlight the dilemma victims face. They also expose the limited understanding society has of childhood sexual abuse and its effect on victims.
Michael Reagan’s story of childhood sexual abuse
The path of devastation left by the abuse of a child is enormous. No one is immune as abuse spans race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status. In 2013, I interviewed Michael Reagan the adopted son of former President Ronald Reagan and actress Jane Wyman. (Michael Reagan speaks out about child abuse)
Reagan was molested by an after-school counselor who used him for child exploitation photos. Reagan kept his silence for decades fearing the pictures would hurt his father’s political career.
He finally told First Lady Nancy Reagan and his father in 1987.
Reagan remembers the seemingly insurmountable wall of fear he faced in disclosing the years of abuse he suffered, but as he uttered the words he found so unspeakable, his burden lifted. Michael Reagan’s case highlights the quagmire victims face. They are trapped by the psychological blackmail a sexual predator uses to isolate the object of their twisted desire.
According to the CDC
“The total lifetime estimated financial costs associated with just one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment (physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, and neglect) is approximately $124 billion.”
The office of the Administration for Children & Families reports that in 2017,
“Almost 65,000 children are sexually abused” and “Fifty-two states reported 537,393 perpetrators.” They also add “81% of women and 35% of men report significant short- or long-term impacts such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
In “Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence, characteristics and risk factors” David Finkelhor, the Director of the Crimes against Children Research Center, reports that one in four girls and one in six boys will be victims of childhood sexual abuse by the time they are eighteen.
According to the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, around seventy-three percent of juvenile victims do not speak out about being abused for one year. Forty-five percent may take up to five years. Some never disclose the horrific nightmare that was their childhood.
One of the grooming tactics used by sexual predators is to gain the trust of every adult around their victim. Most predators are well-respected members of the community. This means when a child tries to disclose that they are being abused, they are seen as liars.
Pedophile Jerry Sandusky – preying in plain sight
Jerry Sandusky, an assistant coach at Penn State, groomed and molested boys through a charity for underprivileged youth ‘The Second Mile Foundation.”
His first victim to come forward tried to tell his principle that he was being molested and his response was,
“Why do you want to get Jerry in trouble for? He’s a great guy!”
Sexually abused children do not get over it
As a survivor of child abuse and child sex trafficking, I found Streisand’s initial comments enraging.
Although she says she believes the two men, she implies the abuse was minimal. That it did not significantly affect their lives. They married and have children, after all.
According to the Medical Journal of Australia, rates of suicide among male victims of childhood sexual abuse are 14 times higher than the norm.
Additionally, victims are 38 times more likely to die from a drug overdose.
Male victims are also prone to more aggressive behavior than female victims. A male victim is 53% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile. He is 38% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime as an adult.
Victims face a lifetime battle with depression, anger, addiction and possibly suicide and the cost to society is the loss of a productive individual who could have changed the world if it were not for their victimization.
Streisand also takes an apathetic tone on the issue of Jackson being a child molester.
If he did, as the documentary implies, groom and abuse children, his twisted sexual appetite ruined the lives of those two young men. The US Department of Justice manual for law enforcement officers identifies 5 common psychological defense patterns in pedophiles:
- Denial (e.g., “Is it wrong to give a child a hug?”);
- Minimization (“It only happened once”);
- Justification (eg, “I am a boy lover, not a child molester”);
- Fabrication (activities were just research for a scholarly project), and
- Attack (character attacks on child, prosecutors, or police, as well as the potential for physical violence).
Pedophiles often intentionally try to place themselves in a position where they can meet children and have the opportunity to interact with children in an unsupervised way, such as when babysitting, doing volunteer work, doing hobbies or coaching sports (Murray JB. Psychological profile of pedophiles and child molesters. J Psychol. 2000;134:211-224).
Pedophiles usually obtain access to children through means of persuasion, friendship, and behavior designed to gain the trust of the child and parent.
The Obstacles to believing Children and Adult survivors
I have encountered many obstacles during my twelve years as an advocate traveling the world and sharing my story at the United Nations and the Council of Europe. Ignorance about both perpetrators and victims persists. Views such as Streisand’s are not unique. The work I do through my non-profit Trafficking in America Task Force brings the knowledge and understanding that is often lacking to law enforcement, medical and mental health professionals, advocates, teachers, and parents.
What inspires me daily are the survivors and victims that speak to me for the first time after a lifetime of silence.
One instance in particular sticks in my mind when during a conference in Washington, D.C., a seventy-eight-year-old woman told me for the first time in her life of the abuse she suffered as a child. I remember seeing the burden she had borne all of those years lift away from her.
Every day a dedicated coalition of survivors and advocates fight to save the next victim from a ravaged childhood and a lifetime of pain and suffering. I consider myself lucky to be among them and thank God for every day for everyone who fights to protect our most precious treasure, our children.
I hope that Barbara Streisand’s apology is heartfelt and that she uses this opportunity to be the change the world needs . That Streisand joins the fight to protect a child’s innocence. The battle to bring all survivors and victims out of the shadows, granting them the acknowledgment and healing they deserve.