Earlier this week, British comedian Russell Brand was accused of rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse by four women, which he has strongly denied. These women shared their claims publicly in a documentary named Russell Brand: In Plain Sight which was the result of an investigation by the Sunday Times, The Times and UK investigative current affairs programme Dispatches.
Whenever a public figure is accused of a crime, it’s tricky territory. Instead of the allegations staying between your inner circle, the jury and the judge, they play out in front of the whole world. The onslaught of opinion and critique is the dark side of reaping the benefits of fame and celebrity. The light side? The hoards of fans who will always, no matter what, be on your side.
The day before the explosive report aired, Brand posted a video to YouTube where he denied these claims and implied that the allegations against him were part of a coordinated attack by the mainstream media, most likely based on how vocal he’s been with his right-leaning views and conspiracy theories surrounding the US 2020 election and COVID-19.
While many people – including myself – believe he spreads misinformation on these topics, he’s garnered a whole heap of fans who believe he’s the mouthpiece of a generation, akin to others like Andrew Tate, who have publicly supported him since the sexual assault allegations came to light.
As the allegations of rape and sexual abuse hit the news cycle, I’ve watched as the public reacted to the news. There have been a mix of responses.
Some have suggested that it’s no surprise that the comedian who admitted to being a sex and drug addict has these allegations against him which, to be clear, is a gross assumption to make about addicts. Others have found and posted old clips from interviews, comedy shows and junkets which show Brand behaving inappropriately. Others – as you can see in the comments of his YouTube video – wholeheartedly believe that these allegations are a take-down mission of their favourite “freedom fighter”. And then there are fans of Brand, who, no matter what, can’t fathom that their favourite big-word-slinging comedian turned conspiracy theorist would ever be capable of doing these things. Which, if you ask me, really displays the power of celebrity parasocial relationships.
But there are two comments I’ve consistently seen left on articles about Brand’s allegations, and other celebrity sexual assault allegations in the past, that are making me feel a rage that burns with the fire of a thousand suns.
1. “But where’s the proof?”
2. “Why didn’t they come out sooner?”
Sadly, these questions are often waged towards survivors of sexual assault. I’d like to address them today.
Firstly, rape and sexual assault are notoriously hard to prove. Often, they occur in private away from any witnesses. And while we often think of rape as a violent act perpetrated by a stranger to a random woman, that’s only just one example. Rape can happen to anyone, at any time, and is more often carried out by someone known to them, rather than a stranger. It’s not always physically violent, and forensic evidence is not always possible.
So when victims do decide to come forward to make a report, they are often met with a barrage of questions that shift the blame to the victim. Were you drinking? Did you go out at night alone? What were you wearing?
According to Senior Sexual Assault Counsellor at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Neeraja Sanmuhanathan, victim blaming is commonplace in support services.
“When survivors come forward to disclose a sexual assault, they are frequently met with more questions than support in our communities. As a result, silence can be a form of survival,” she said, per the ABC.
But while these victims are staying silent for their own survival, many use their silence as ammunition to prove that their claims are false.
A study published in 2021 revealed that four in 10 Australians mistrust women’s reports of sexual violence despite the fact that false allegations of sexual assault sit between one to 10 per cent. And that’s not including the 87 per cent of women who experience sexual assault and don’t report it to the police.
The National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey revealed that 35 per cent of the 19,100 respondents believe that “it is common for sexual assault accusations to be used as a way at getting back at men.” 24 per cent believed that “a lot of times, women who say they were raped had led the man on and then had regrets”, per The Sydney Morning Herald.
This fucking terrifies me.
As for why victims didn’t come out sooner?
We can look directly at one of the women placing allegations against Brand.
In the exposé, a woman referred to as “Nadia” claimed that she had been raped by Brand in his home after rejecting his suggestions of a threesome in 2012. Following the alleged attack, she went to a rape crisis centre. According to The Times and Dispatches, her treatment at the centre on this occasion has been confirmed via medical records.
The case notes claim that the Los Angeles Police Department was notified but Nadia chose not to make a report. She reportedly said she “didn’t think my words would mean anything up against his.”
She was worried about the backlash and impact on her reputation that claims like this would have if they went public.
Sadly, Nadia’s story is a common one. The idea of going up against someone with status, fans and money is inherently scary.
For allegations like these against a public figure, nuance is needed. While Brand is, of course, innocent until proven otherwise, the way we report and discuss the claims by the accusers should be taken seriously without judgment or blame. Even if it’s just a wayward comment on Facebook or Instagram, these public comments have an impact.
They add another voice to the chorus of people belittling the claims of survivors of sexual assault, whether they mean to or not. Survivors don’t need another voice doubting them, they need more people who are willing to believe them.
So, instead of leaving a comment doubting the validity of claims by strangers you’ve never met, let’s take a break to consider that there might just be more things at play.
Help is available.
If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.
If you’d like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online.
Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.