By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, BlackNews.com Columnist
The week before Christmas in 2004, a smiling, ebullient Michael Jackson shouted out to dozens of children that ranged in ages from 3 to 17, "I hope you have a wonderful day, Merry Christmas, "I love you." The children shouted back in unison, "We love you." Jackson couldn’t resist, and shouted back, "I love you more." Jackson’s bubbly childlike spontaneous display of affection was part of the loving, tender image that the ex-king of pop has spent the past two decades cultivating.
That’s a jarring contrast to the Jackson who purportedly whispered while riding in a golf cart on his Neverland Ranch to his child accuser, "What’s your favorite curse word?" The testimony came from Jackson’s child accuser, and was contained in testimony that was leaked to smokinggun.com, a website that specializes in making public damning legal documents in celebrity cases.
The big tremor of public suspicion about Jackson was first roused in his child molestation court settlement in 1993. While he dodged the legal bullet and staved off a possible criminal indictment against him then by shoveling out millions in the child molestation case, he still lost badly in the court of public opinion. The public has long memories and even longer tongues when it comes to the emotionally hyper-charged issue of child sexual abuse. The rumors, whispers and doubts now swirled thick and fast around him. The reason for that belief is simple.
Despite the widespread attention and public disgust at child victimization, the rash of tough state and federal laws against child molestation, and the eagerness of judges, prosecutors, and juries to fling the book at child sex offenders, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on child abuse and neglect in 2000, the rate of child sexual abuse again has soared. Even more troubling, a prior survey in 1997 found that more that more than ten percent of the child abuse cases were sexual molestation cases.
That almost certainly is the tip of the iceberg. Police and child abuse experts say that there are many thousands of child abuse cases that aren’t reported. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused. They are abused not by strangers but in most cases by family members, friends, associates, and care givers. Sexual predators know that children are weak, vulnerable, trusting, and also less likely to complain to parents and the authorities about their abuse, and if they do they are less likely to be believed.
Psychologists, psychiatrists, child development specialists, academics and medical practitioners, and state and federal task agencies have spent millions studying the behavior of pedophiles and have compiled voluminous case studies of their acts toward children. Yet they are no closer to answering the question: Why do they do the terrible things they do?
The theories and answers to that question are as varied as the experts that give them. Are pedophiles themselves sexually abused children? Do they suffer an abnormal biological make-up? Are they fearful, isolated and lonely individuals? Are they driven by Internet titillation and porn?
The pedophile scandals that rock the Catholic Church further boosted public suspicion that not only wealthy and famous men can commit terrible sexual acts, but even men that are respected, revered, and practically deified as Catholic priests once were can also plunge to the gutter in their behavior, and their superiors will keep silent or worse cover up for them.
If Jackson did what prosecutors charged him with, that code of silence may have well been in effect with him. Some among Jackson’s family members, friends, and staff persons had to know or at least suspect that Jackson was committing dubious sexual acts with one or more of the children that he routinely paraded through Neverland.
The instinct of rich, famous and even the pious is to spin into maximum damage control mode when the first scent of scandal arises. Jackson and his defense attorneys did what the church elders did each time the whispers of abuse turned to a roar. They also swung into maximum damage control mode. They downplayed the new charges as a rerun of the same old soap opera of a decade ago. Jackson did not go to the extreme lengths that some Catholic officials did and try to publicly sweep the sexual dirt under the rug. That would have been impossible anyway. He was too well known, and the past allegations of possible sexual misconduct were too widespread.
The legal charges against the ex-pop king were too stiff for him to buy his way out of criminal charges as many in the top rung of the Catholic Church did, or tried to do, with their accused priests. Only a clean court victory can insure his freedom, and wipe the words "accused pedophile" from in front of his name. Even that might not be enough to wipe it out of the minds of millions who will still wonder what Jackson was really up to at Neverland.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist for BlackNews.com, an author and political analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming: Beyond Michael Jackson: The Clash of Celebrity, Sex and Race (AuthorHouse Press, April 2005).