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Barbra Streisand Had the Worst Possible Take on Leaving Neverland
Barbra Streisand, like Liam Neeson before her, could have kept her mouth shut and just enjoyed her status as a beloved and iconic entertainer. But instead she offered a truly bad take on the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, one that, even considered in the context of the thriving world of Michael Jackson apologia, somehow manages to be more awful than all the rest.
Unlike those who dismiss or undermine the allegations of sexual abuse against Jackson, Streisand said in a recent interview that she “absolutely” believes James Safechuck and Wade Robson, the accusers featured in Leaving Neverland. Instead, she suggested to The Times of London that the molestation they endured—brutal sexual assaults the men described in agonizing detail—just wasn’t that bad.
“His sexual needs were his sexual needs, coming from whatever childhood he has or whatever DNA he has,” Streisand told The Times. “You can say ‘molested’, but those children, as you heard say [the grown-up Robson and Safechuck], they were thrilled to be there. They both married and they both have children, so it didn’t kill them.”
Michael Jackson with a young Wade Robson.
Streisand concluded that the real villains were the accusers’ parents, who allowed Jackson intimate access to their kids. “It’s a combination of feelings,” she told The Times. “I feel bad for the children. I feel bad for him. I blame, I guess, the parents, who would allow their children to sleep with him.”
Decades of research now suggests that what doesn’t kill you does not, in fact, make you stronger—and childhood traumas in particular can be disastrous for survivors’ future physical and mental health. And Streisand’s invocation of the accusers’ hard fought-for domestic stability as evidence that the abuse they allegedly suffered was not damaging is perverse.
But while her dismissal of sexual abuse is horrifying, opinions like Streisand’s were once much more widespread. That such abuse is harmful to survivors and a morally indefensible act is no longer debated, even while individual accusers often struggle to have their accounts believed. But this wasn’t always the case; in the 1960s and 1970s child sexual abuse was little researched, less understood, and often normalized—just think of the teenaged “baby groupies” that rockstars like Iggy Pop, Jimmy Page, and David Bowie publicly exploited.
“The culture was sort of snickeringly approving of the pursuit of underage girls,” feminist critic Rebecca Solnit wrote of her teenage years in the 1970s. “It was completely normalized.”
So while Streisand’s take is undeniably horrific, the significant outrage her comments generating is proof of a welcome cultural evolution on child sex abuse. Even Leaving Neverland’s director, Dan Reed, chimed in via Twitter.