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‘Neverland’ documentary reveals pedophiles’ tactics

People worldwide have now watched the HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland,” featuring two men who say as children they were repeatedly sexually abused by Michael Jackson. The documentary delved into how such abuse can occur, a predator’s methods and the lifelong damage it can do to a child victim. I’m not convinced most Americans truly understand how a pedophile operates.

There is still this perception that these sexual crimes are suddenly forced upon the child, that violence, restraints and bloodshed are the norm. Nothing could be further from the truth.

At the crux of pedophilia is the technique child hunters use to gain access to their prey. It is called “grooming” and it is cleverly applied to both adults and children.

First, realize that a pedophile is the most charming, personable and cunning criminal on the planet. They woo and seduce. They present as good tax-paying, church-going, hard-working citizens. They make people feel as though they are completely trustworthy. The pedophile’s first grooming target is almost always the parent. They know they must seduce the parent into thinking the best about them before getting clear access to the child.

Pedophiles often zero in on one-parent families, harried single mothers who crave help to raise their youngster. Once the predator has the child alone, a familiar pattern usually occurs. The child is first made to feel safe, then they are repeatedly given gifts and told how special they are. There is hugging and kissing, and if the child responds positively the next step is touching on the thighs and then the crotch. Pornography is often used to gauge a child’s sexual curiosity, and alcohol or drugs are frequently offered. The child begins to love and depend upon this person who heaps so much attention upon them.

This seduction doesn’t happen overnight. It might take weeks or months, and that is part of the allure for a child predator. The hunt is often just as stimulating to a pedophile as an actual sex act.

“He told me it was love … and God brought us together,” one of Jackson’s accusers, Wade Robson, said to Oprah Winfrey during a one-hour special that followed the HBO documentary. Robson said he was just 7 when the molestation began.

“I had no understanding that what Michael did to me sexually was abuse. … I had no concept of it being that,” Robson said.

Oprah, herself a survivor of childhood sex crimes, explained that impressionable children simply don’t have the language to explain all their complicated feelings. When asked if something bad happened to them, it is easy for the child to deny it because the hugging, kissing and rubbing actually felt good to them.

Robson and a second man, James Safechuck, both said they were so brainwashed to keep the sex secret and beguiled by Jackson’s fame that it wasn’t until they married and had their own sons that they began to realize what had actually happened. Both described later-in-life nervous breakdowns that led them to seek therapy to heal from their trauma.

Attorneys for Jackson’s estate filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO and condemned the documentary, calling it one-sided propaganda designed to “shamelessly exploit an innocent man who is no longer here to defend himself.”

The public should also understand that pedophiles follow a typical script when discovered. They distract the conversation by personally attacking the child’s character or that of the family. They may point the finger at what they claim is an overly needy child with an inattentive parent, they may tell police the family is out to extort money from them, or the suspect may accuse the child of being the aggressor who brought porn or alcohol into the relationship. They, in effect, ask police, “Who you gonna believe? Me, the grown up or the troubled kid from the broken home?” It’s an age-old molester’s tactic.

Retired FBI Special Agent Ken Lanning wrote the bureau’s bible on pedophilia, “Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis.” He once told me pedophiles have an uncanny ability to identify with and listen to children. They surround themselves with things that will attract children. Think of the amusement park at Neverland or the big-screen TV playroom in Jerry Sandusky’s basement near Penn State. Lanning also notes that molesters believe their loving actions toward children are natural. “Many pedophiles refuse to recognize that what they do is even wrong,” Lanning said. They truly believe the “love” they are showing the child is a good thing.

I’m hoping that these recent child survivor’s stories have educated people as to why victims keep their humiliating secret for so long; how the person next door can be both a wonderful neighbor and a child predator, and how a victim’s lifetime of torment can be soothed by simply looking them in the eye and saying, “I believe you.”; e-mail to