"I was sexually abused as a child and I had no other choice but to forgive my mother," said Sheryl Underwood
On Tuesday’s The Talk, the co-hosts discussed allegations brought against the late Michael Jackson in the Finding Neverland documentary and also spoke about the personal pain they both endured in childhood as a result of sexual abuse — and how and why they chose to forgive.
“I was sexually abused as a child and I had no other choice but to forgive my mother, even though she seemed resistant to taking any responsibility or feeling that she could have done something to protect me. But I had no other choice but to forgive her so that I could survive, so that I could move on, so that I could heal and get better,” said Underwood, 55.
Underwood admitted that “it was difficult,” though, in part because she “was primarily living with her at the time.”
“So I felt that no matter how hard it is — and I was begging her to acknowledge that one, this was not my fault, that I didn’t do anything, but you’re my mother, you’re my mother. And you look to your parents as being the thing that protects you, that guards you, and she didn’t do that and I don’t think that it even dawned on her that it was something that we both needed. But I had no other choice — I had to forgive her and it was very difficult to do,” she explained.
During the episode, Underwood admitted that her father initially “didn’t want to know the details,” but ultimately was the one who helped her “mentally survive” the sexual abuse.
“I told everybody. I wanted everyone to see I wasn’t bathing, I wasn’t wearing pajamas, I was wearing full clothes, double clothes, winter clothes, because I was trying to stop what was happening. My father didn’t want to know the details, but then he slowly wanted to know what happened,” she shared.
Added Underwood, “And what made it so that I could move on was my father saying, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you, and I’m sorry I didn’t protect my child. I should have listened to you.’ … When people say, ‘Well, I didn’t witness it,’ you’re never going to witness it. They need it to be hidden … so that when you tell someone, you’re the liar. But I thank God that my father was slowly coming to a point quick enough for me to mentally survive this.”
Reflecting on the past abuse she suffered as a child, Dancing with the Stars host Inaba said that she too “had to” forgive her mother.
“She couldn’t see things,” Inaba, 51, said of her mother. “It’s not that she allowed it. She couldn’t see it because she loved the various people around.”
Still, Inaba admitted that she felt the family matriarch should have noticed what was happening.
“At the beginning of the healing, when you start to recognize that you have had this experience, you want that apology,” said Inaba, who revealed that “it was hard” for her mother to “believe” her.
“I understand that. At first that made me so angry. Why are you not believing me? And it made me feel super alone. That’s why I have so much compassion for these boys because they’re asking for compassion to feel less alone in the struggle that they’ve had. And it’s okay. I think people can believe whatever they want to believe, whichever side you land on, that’s your choice,” she said. “But for me, somebody whose been through it, you need them to recognize, you need someone to say, ‘Yes, I’m sorry it happened.’ You may or may not get it and if you don’t get it, you still have to learn how to forgive and move on for your own life.”
The discussion among the co-hosts came days after Leaving Neverland made its TV debut on HBO Sunday night and Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland debuted simultaneously on HBO and OWN following the end of the two-night premiere on Monday.
In the two-part, four-hour-long documentary from director Dan Reed that premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival last month, Wade Robson and 41-year-old James Safechuck claim that Jackson sexually molested them at different points when they were children.
Leaving Neverland includes intimate and graphic interviews with Robson, Safechuck, both of their mothers, their wives and Robson’s siblings as the men allege how the megastar grew close to the then-boys before molesting them at separate times in the late ’80s and early ’90s, showering them with praise and gifts.
“This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson,” the statement read. “Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them. Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed ‘master of deception’, filed lawsuits against Michael’s Estate, asking for millions of dollars. Both lawsuits were dismissed.”
During an interview with Oprah Winfrey airing on HBO and OWN Monday night, Reed rebuked the Jackson estate’s statement and said that Robson and Safechuck “have no financial interest” in coming forward.
“They make that clear straight away in my documentary,” Reed said. “They’re not being remunerated in any way and neither are their family. So this is a hypothetical financial interest.”
To begin the interview, Winfrey questioned Robson about why he testified when he was 11 years old in Jackson’s 2005 trial on child-molestation charges, saying that Jackson had never acted inappropriately towards him. Jackson was ultimately acquitted in the 2005 trial on all charges.
“I had no understanding that what Michael did to me sexually was abuse,” Robson explained. “I had no concept of it being that. From night one of the abuse, of the sexual stuff that Michael did to me, he told me that it was love. He told me that he loved me and that God brought us together. I was this little boy from the other side of the world in Australia. Michael was God to me … anything Michael was going to say to me was gospel to me.”
Robson previously sued Jackson’s estate in 2013, claiming that Jackson abused him for nearly a decade, but the suit was dismissed by a judge in 2017.
“I could have, I guess, just gone on some TV shows and [done] some interviews and more than likely it would have been sensationalized and over in a couple of weeks,” Robson explained about his decision to sue. “So for me, that’s where it began. That’s one of the platforms that we have, the legal system.”
Reed — who also participated in Winfrey’s interview special — explained that the documentary highlights the complicated relationship between the abused and their perpetrators.
WATCH: Wade Robson: What to Know About the Man Accusing Michael Jackson of Abuse in ‘Leaving Neverland’
“The opening minutes of the film are these two guys saying what a wonderful, warm, kind, loving, generous person Michael was and he sexually abused them for seven years,” he said. “Those two truths are both present in this story, and it’s a complicated truth. But I think once people understand that an abuser can be both your best friend, your mentor, and your idol and your lover, and that can happen while you’re a child, and you never really disentangle those two things. That’s a painful thing to have to confront.”
Speaking of Robson’s decision to open up now about the alleged sexual abuse he suffered as a child, Reed told Today that Robson was inspired after becoming a father.
“I think a big moment for Wade — and Wade kind of led the way — was having his own son,” the director shared. “So when his son came into the world and he saw this child and he realized what it is to have a child in your care … he began to imagine Michael doing the things to his little boy that he’d done to 7-year-old Wade, and these images were revolting and disgusting.”
The King of Pop’s estate has filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO over its broadcast of the documentary, alleging it violates a non-disparagement clause from a 1992 contract.
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, HBO said, “Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged. HBO will move forward with the airing of Leaving Neverland, the two-part documentary, on March 3 and 4. This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves.”
Jackson died in 2009 at age 50, leaving behind three children: Prince Michael, 22, Paris, 20, and “Blanket,” 17, who now goes by Bigi.