Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, grooming, controlling and emotionally abusive behaviour.
The impact of the #MeToo movement, especially in high-profile cases, remains undeniable. Prominent figures like Harvey Weinstein, Prince Andrew, and Jeffrey Epstein, who exploited their positions of power and believed themselves to be above the law, are now facing the consequences of their reprehensible actions. ‘Russell Brand: In Plain Sight’ is a recent documentary, produced collaboratively by the Sunday Times, the Times, and Channel 4's Dispatches, has added Russell Brand to this growing list of accused individuals. Brand now faces a litany of allegations, ranging from rape and sexual assault to grooming, controlling, emotionally abusive behaviour. In this unfortunate and increasingly predictable narrative, multiple women have come forward to share their experiences of abuse by Brand. For the sake of their anonymity, pseudonyms have been used for the brave women speaking out.
The first woman to speak about her experience was ‘Nadia’. She encountered Brand in 2012 during his move to the United States. While visiting his show Brand X’s afterparty, Brand made extremely overt advances towards Nadia, including approaching her saying ‘I want to meet you’, kissing her and getting her phone number. After staying in contact and meeting up to have consensual sex previously, Brand called Nadia and asked her to come to his apartment claiming he'd had a bad day and needed her to cheer him up. Once there, Nadia recalled, he chased her around the apartment naked and raped her despite her multiple attempts to resist him both vocally (saying ‘no’ multiple times) and physically (attempting to push him away). Nadia's account highlights the physical power imbalance in such situations, and how impossible it was for her to fight back. Although it is often the case that victims are physically unable to fight off their attacker, as in Nadia’s case, approximately 70% of victims also experience the phenomenon of ‘tonic immobility’, a biological survival instinct that causes ‘an involuntary, temporary state of motor inhibition in response to situations involving intense fear’, similar to the ‘deer in headlights’ effect. Acknowledging this statistic is vital in combating the rape myth often heard in court cases that non-resistance equals consent.
Later that day Nadia went to a local Rape Treatment Centre (RTC) to report her assault. In the UK, sexual assault referral centres (SARCs), similar to the RTCs found in the States, provide comprehensive medical, practical and emotional support services for individuals who have experienced sexual abuse, assault, or rape regardless of their gender or age. There are also specially trained police officers who are available to guide survivors through the next steps of the criminal justice system should they choose to take that route. SARCs are not the only places people can get help after an assault, other avenues to support include general practitioners, staff at contraceptive clinics or hospitals, voluntary organisations (such as Rape Crisis, Women's Aid, Victim Support, The Survivors Trust or Male Survivors Partnership) or emergency helplines (111 for NHS, 101 for police, or 999 for emergencies).
Nadia underwent medical examinations, received antibiotics and was provided with emergency contraception at her local Rape Treatment Centre. A detailed account of the events was also taken which, if she had chosen to do so, could have been used in an official police report. Nadia, along with approximately 63% of rape victims, chose not to report her assault, fearing the consequences of exposing a powerful man for both herself and her family. She later went on to receive therapy to help her process her assault and has finally come to terms with what happened to her. Therapy and counselling are excellent resources for people who have experienced trauma, and can be accessed through multiple routes. For example, the NHS, private therapy providers or charities such as Rape Crisis: England and Wales.
The next woman to come forward about her experience was ‘Alice’ who was only 16 when her relationship with a then 30-year-old Brand began in 2006. Alice credits some of the blame for her situation on problematic laws which allow people in their 30s to date underage girls and boys - something that is still legal to this day provided they do not have sexual contact. One of the main issues Alice underscored about her relationship with Brand was the ‘power imbalance’ she experienced, saying that she often ‘didn’t feel that (she) could argue with a grown-up’ during their time together. It is incredibly important for relationships to feel equal in order to avoid cases of abuse and - although not always the case - having such an extreme age gap is a factor that can lead to such power imbalances. Power imbalances can look different in different relationships but some common warning signs to look for include one partner making most decisions, having control over the ‘final say’, or influencing the other's decisions. While Alice's relationship began consensually, Alice now feels as though she was controlled by Brand. Examples of his controlling behaviour include wanting to know about her sexual history, asking her to lie to her family, controlling what she would say and on one occasion even making her wait for him in a bath that had gone cold for a prolonged period of time in order to please him. Other examples of controlling behaviours include monitoring a partner's time and communications, controlling who a partner can see or when they go out and/or humiliating a partner or putting them down, for example, telling them they are worthless.
Despite this, Alice also recalls feeling ‘giddy’ and ‘special’ when she had the attention of Brand, something which many other victims of grooming also experience. It is common for victims of grooming to have very complex feelings about their abusers, as many of them may not understand that they are even being groomed at all. Common feelings include ‘loyalty, admiration (and) love’ which coexist in a victim's mind with feelings of ‘fear, distress and confusion’.
‘Rachel’, the next woman to come forward, was a junior member of the team working on Brand’s new TV show. Rachel’s age, like Alice’s, was significantly younger than Brand’s - she was even often referred to as the ‘baby’ of the team. This was Rachel’s first job and as such she felt pressure to make good impressions on the more experienced and senior members of the team, including Brand. Rachel relayed how he would make her feel ‘special’ and ‘flattered’ when she pleased him, a comparable experience to Alice, who reported feeling similar emotions. However, these experiences occurring in the workplace add yet another layer of inappropriateness to her situation. At one point during Rachel’s employment, Brand went as far as exposing his penis to her and asking her to perform inappropriate sexual behaviours in the workplace, which truly highlights the extreme lengths Brand went to when targeting young women. She expressed feelings of anxiety and worried about how his position as a senior member of staff would affect her should anybody find out about his actions. This ultimately led to Rachel deciding not to speak out for fear of losing her job. After beginning a sexual relationship with Brand, he told Rachel that she was forbidden to tell anyone about what was happening between them as it was written into his contract that he was not allowed to have any sexual contact with members of the team. This, or any reference to his sex addiction and problematic sexual history, was not disclosed to the rest of the team. Rachel felt that this, along with other actions by the production company, contributed to his ability to commit these behaviours and enabled him to abuse his position of power to groom her in the workplace for sex.
Other members of staff also said that he abused his power on set, one example being his use of the runners to give his number to young female members of the audience. They later reported having multiple calls from these women who felt ‘used’, ‘distressed’ and ‘upset’ by Brand after having sexual relations with him. Concerns and complaints were brought up to senior members of the production team however his behaviour did not stop. When Channel 4 was asked to comment on these allegations they said they had no documentation that these alleged incidents were ever brought to their attention. They also said that they had much more thorough procedures in place today to prevent such incidents and also have safeguarding policies to support whistleblowing. A whistleblower is someone who ‘report(s) certain types of wrongdoing’ these wrongdoings are ‘usually something (they’ve) seen at work - though not always’. Many companies also have their own whistleblowing policies - for example, Channel 4’s policy claims to offer an anonymous avenue to report or escalate claims through their own private procedures - which are available for all members of staff to access.
The next woman to come forward, 'Phoebe,' initially met Brand at an AA meeting. She vividly remembered Brand's manipulative behaviour, and how he often resorted to 'love bombing' tactics. Love bombing is a psychological manipulation technique characterised by excessive displays of love and affection with the intent to manipulate and gain the trust and affection of a partner. It is often associated with manipulative or abusive individuals who use this tactic to gain emotional control over their partner, making it difficult for them to spot abusive behaviour in the future.
After they began a sexual relationship, Brand invited her to work with him, and in her eagerness to pursue her 'big break,' she accepted. Phoebe, despite recalling Brand's uncanny ability to exert control over women and manipulate them into engaging in sexual activities with him, believed that their relationship was a genuine friendship and often spent time with Brand and their respective social circles. One day, while retrieving her belongings left at Brand's home after a day of work, Phoebe found herself alone with Brand. He entered the room naked and began chasing her, forcibly reaching into her trousers, mirroring the distressing encounter Nadia had with Brand. In desperation, she screamed and begged him to stop, saying that he was her friend and she did not want to do this. After ‘snapping out of it’ Phoebe recalls he became very angry with her as she ran from his apartment. Several of Brand's colleagues, who were outside waiting for a meeting, heard the commotion but nobody intervened. One of them later contacted Phoebe, expressing deep remorse and saying that he had never forgiven himself for not intervening after hearing her screams. He claimed that they were afraid of Brand's influence, meaning nobody wanted to involve themselves. Initially, Brand was profusely apologetic to Phoebe, but upon learning that she may have confided in a friend, he changed his demeanour. He isolated her and threatened her with legal action if she chose to pursue her claims further. This account has been corroborated by three independent sources.
The Warning Signs
Reflecting on Russell Brand's past interviews, shows, and articles, it's evident that his content often displayed highly sexualised and problematic themes. One particularly shocking example is his interview with Jimmy Saville. During the interview, Brand - after regretfully informing Saville he did not have a sister to offer up - offered to send his assistant to Saville naked and then went on to discuss her appearance with him.
Another instance of Brand's inappropriate behaviour during his radio career involved repeated sexual comments directed towards a female news reader. He publicly made comments about his sexual fantasies involving both of them, which she reported to senior members of the production team. Astonishingly, Brand's behaviour persisted, and he even went so far as to joke about her complaint on the air.
A witness account provides yet another example of Brand's shocking behaviour. The allegation claims that Brand exposed his genitals and urinated into a bottle in front of colleagues and guests, including a minor who was visiting the studios. Complaints were consistently lodged with senior members of the production team concerning Brand's actions but were repeatedly dismissed and denied, even after his resignation.
The fact that such unacceptable behaviour was allowed to continue without consequences is deeply troubling, and not only reflects poorly on the team which enabled Brand to act in such a manner, but also demeans Brand's female colleagues and women as a whole.
Male allies play a crucial role in assault allegations, as women are often not believed based solely on their testimony. Despite statistics of false accusations of rape being incredibly low - as low as 2% in some studies - the ‘rape myth’ that there is an epidemic of false accusations prevails. Men have the ability to influence other men in ways that women cannot, this reinforces the importance of male allyship and demonstrates how fundamental they are in shifting societal norms, changing perceptions of rape myths, and moving society forward into a more enlightened and equitable future. In a commendable show of allyship, Daniel Sloss, a male comedian who worked in similar circles to Brand, came forward in the documentary to support the survivors and speak about his experiences and knowledge of Brand’s behaviour. Sloss spoke about how intimidating he found coming forward to talk on the documentary, stating ‘if I’m scared of this, and there's almost no consequences to me … how must (the victims) feel?’ but stressed that he ‘couldn't not say something’. Sloss explained how there were many people who had negative experiences with Brand, spanning various groups and multiple years. It seemed to be a known secret that Brand was a dangerous man, with women in the industry warning each other of him and those like him - there have even been Whatsapp group chats discovered for this exact purpose. For such a sinister secret to be so well known within the business, and for Brand to continue to be employed and even advancing his career, is deeply concerning. Sloss also questioned whether adequate steps were taken by senior members of the comedy circuit to, if not prevent, simply not enable Brand and his problematic behaviour. Sloss concludes his statement by asking what we, as individuals, as men, can do to stop situations like this from happening.
Unfortunately, as they say, hindsight is 20/20, and it is always much easier to see the patterns of unacceptable behaviour and sexist attitudes after the fact. The recent discoveries of once-admired celebrities’ abhorrent behaviours and the proceeding claims of ‘we should have known’ truly highlight how important it is to call out problematic behaviour when we see it. It is no longer enough to simply rally in the aftermath, instead a proactive approach is desperately needed to combat this sexual assault epidemic.
The Egalitarian’s support page can also assist in signposting you to external support agencies.