The reactions to the Russell Brand allegations are the reason women don’t come forward about sexual assault
by Ally McLaren
Actor, comedian and presenter Russell Brand has been accused of rape and sexual assault by four women in a joint investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches, The Times and The Sunday Times.
The allegations range from between 2006 and 2013, when Brand was at the height of his career and fame.
Brand’s career took off in 2004 when he was appointed host of the TV show Big Brother’s Big Mouth. Following this were a range of major film roles, including St Trinian’s in 2007, Forgetting Sarah Marshall in 2008, Get Him to the Greek in 2010, Rock of Ages in 2012 and voice roles in Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 in 2010 and 2013 respectively. Brand has also hosted his own radio show and podcasts and has been employed by Channel 4 and BBC Radio.
Airing on Saturday 16 September 2023, the Dispatches programme, Russell Brand - In Plain Sight, shared the allegations of four women who accused Brand of rape and sexual assault in both the UK and USA.
One woman states that Brand raped her without a condom in his Los Angeles home and has been confirmed by The Timese to have been treated at a rape crisis centre on the same day.
A second woman claims that she was sexually assaulted by Brand when she worked with him in Los Angeles. In the UK, a third woman alleges that she was sexually assaulted by Brand, with a fourth woman stating that Brand sexually assaulted her when she was just 16 years old and still at school while he was in his 30s.
Before the programme even aired, Brand had taken to his YouTube channel to deny the allegations, saying that he “absolutely refutes” the statements made and began to dispel the narrative by claiming that this was a mainstream media attack targeting him in order to silence his voice as part of independent media. The same day that the allegations aired, Brand performed a scheduled comedy show at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre.
The social media response to the Russell Brand allegations is not surprising, but it is not only disappointing but absolutely devastating to the victims. Trending Tweets and the comments under his YouTube video showed a wave of support for Brand, with many buying into the media attack storyline, claiming that he himself is the victim in this situation for being falsely accused in an effort to shut down his channel.
There were numerous criticisms of the victims themselves, questioning why they hadn’t said anything sooner, why they had chosen to remain anonymous, why they had gone to the media and what they were gaining from this.
Seeing these responses made my heart break for the women who have spoken out. It takes an incredible amount of strength to come forward and report rape or sexual assault, navigating the immense trauma that comes along with what they experienced. It is so frustrating to see again and again the motives and actions of victims questioned more than those of the alleged perpetrator.
The myths surrounding rape are so harmful to cases being reported and prosecuted, and the reactions to the Brand allegations are the exact reason that women don’t come forward about sexual assault. Creating a culture of shaming and silencing victims is why they are afraid to speak out in the first place.
Here we will break down the rape myths surrounding these allegations:
Myth: Women lie about being raped because they regret having sex with someone.
Fact: False rape allegations are extremely rare. It is also common for women to be raped by their partners or people who they have already had a sexual relationship with.
Myth: If they had really been raped they would have said something sooner.
Fact: There are so many factors which prevent people from speaking out about sexual assault - the trauma makes it a difficult thing to process, accept and speak about. People may worry they will not be believed or will be blamed, or feel ashamed and are afraid of people finding out.
Myth: It’s not rape if it’s your partner.
Fact: Rape is rape, no matter who it is, whether you have just met or have been married for years. The women with allegations against Russell Brand had had sexual relations with him before the incidents occurred, but consent must be received every single time. Consenting once does not mean ongoing consent.
Myth: Lots of women wanted to sleep with him, so he wouldn’t need to rape anyone.
Fact: Rapists can be attractive, charming, have a partner, a girlfriend, a wife, or sleep with lots of people. Rapists can have consensual encounters in certain circumstances while also still committing rape in other circumstances, it is not mutually exclusive. A person’s status, fame or popularity can make it harder to make a report against them for fear of not being believed.
Myth: He just couldn’t help himself.
Fact: Men can control themselves, and can stop themselves. Having a drug addiction or a sex addiction, as Brand had, does not excuse rape.
Myth: They’re not telling the truth if they’re anonymous.
Fact: As alleged victims of a crime, these women are under no obligation to reveal their identities publicly. They have not committed a crime and are not there to be held to account or judged. There are very valid reasons to keep their identities anonymous, especially considering the backlash of the case. They may fear for their safety, their family and friends or their careers being affected. It does not make their words any less credible.
Myth: They have gone to the media to lie, get attention or money.
Fact: These women kept their identities anonymous and were not paid for their participation in the programme. They are seeking nothing but justice and to reveal the truth.
Myth: Innocent until proven guilty.
Fact: According to Rape Crisis England & Wales, charges had only been brought about in 1.9% of rape cases recorded by police in 2022. Less than 2 in 100 rapes recorded by police resulted in a charge, let alone a conviction, in 2022. 5 in 6 women who are raped do not report the crime to the police, with 40% stating the reason to be embarrassment, and 38% saying they didn’t think the police could help.
With low conviction rates and a toxic culture of victim blaming, it is no wonder that reporting rates for sexual assault crimes are so low. We need to work to create a safe and open space by changing the narrative, culture and mindset around rape.