I write this letter as both a Survivor of sexual abuse/assault and a therapist who has worked with Survivors for nearly 20 years.
I would first like to share how much you, as a human, and your show has meant to me over the years. I began watching the first day you went national. Just 10 days before my second son was born.
I had just moved to the other side of the country a year before with a new husband and baby at the age of 17.
I don’t remember when you first shared about your own abuse/assault history but, somehow I already knew.
I couldn’t believe a real person was talking about it on television. This was a pivotal moment for me. Though I didn’t recognize it at the time.
Over those early years, your show was my community. As a Survivor I didn’t have particularly close friends and there was no one I spoke to about things that really mattered.
You and your show played an important role in my learning, understanding… and was my sense of connection during that time.
Of course this became the experience of millions as time went on. You are relatable on many levels, you talk about things people don’t often want to talk about, and you care.
It is because of the care I know you have for others that I am writing this letter…
As you often say “when you know better, you do better”.
I have heard you use “seduction” in the context of sexual abuse before. You recently talked about it again on “After Neverland”.
I know you (or at least I believe) you speak about it this way so that people understand it’s not always a scary or seemingly traumatic experience. That it most often does not start with violence or even start immediately with “sex”.
I, too, think this is important for people to understand.
However, there is an unintended consequence to using this term on both how an individual feels and societal’s understanding of abuse.
Seduction suggests consent at some point. At a minimum it suggests acquiescence.
When a Survivor hears anyone suggest that what they experienced they somehow “agreed” to, it reinforces their own sense of responsibility, participation… and shame.
If they hear it from Oprah, it has even more impact.
This is why the language and phrasing we use matters.
Children cannot consent, give in to, or go along with any sexual act with an adult. This is exactly why it is a crime.
Calling it seduction minimizes, and in many ways, denies the significance of the experience.
Denying the truth of abuse and its impact is why Survivors struggle throughout their lives.
As both James and Wade shared (which is what all Survivors believe, including myself), they didn’t think they’d been effected by the abuse. They didn’t connect their emotional struggle with abuse because they too believed they agreed to it.
You cannot heal what you deny is wounded.
Since this is a public letter, I’d also like to say something to James… You did not become complicit when you said “vows” to Michael Jackson. The vows were another method to manipulate you.
I think it may be helpful to consider how telling someone that when they were a child they became complicit in their own abuse may effect their level of responsibility… and shame.
Many viewers, including some survivors, of Leaving Neverland were left having a hard time believing that they could “go along with it” for so long, didn’t tell, or would lie to protect such a monster.
This happens in part because when we use language to suggest that a child was seduced, it also suggests that somehow they were ok with it.
It suggests it to the child within the adult body and to the rest of society. This is how myths around sexual abuse continue. It is why victim blaming exists. It is also one of the many ways the shame is put on Survivors. #NotOurShame
The most challenging aspect to this is that it often happens on a subconscious level so most are not even aware of the further, deeper impact.
Your voice and platform have been literally life saving for many. Your words have the power to greatly influence how someone feels, thinks, and believes… for better or worse.
It's important to call it what it is… manipulation, an abuse of power (as an adult there is an inherent level of authority), and brainwashing. This, itself is the grooming process… and more importantly abuse.
Now, you know better. <3
If you’d like to know even more about impact and healing from sexual abuse let me know. 🙂
With deep gratitude,
Peggy Oliveira, MSW