THIS weekend has seen serious and disturbing allegations come to light about a prominent man in the world of entertainment, the comedian Russell Brand.
The nature of the allegations is incredibly serious. Women have spoken out about allegedly being sexually assaulted, raped and coercively controlled.
Listening to the harrowing accounts and watching the commentary on social media, two things are clear: How difficult it can be to speak out about abuse, especially if the perpetrator has much more power than you, and how the criminal justice system does not work for people who say they are survivors of horrendous abuse.
From working with survivors at Women’s Aid, we know firsthand just how difficult it is to come forward and speak about the abuse they have experienced.
Currently, they have to do this in a world where not only are they not believed, but the abuser isn’t held to account.
Across society it is unacceptable to know that today women are bound by fear, warning each other about men that could pose a danger to them, all the while living in the knowledge that the system is rigged in favour of that very man and the likelihood is that he will not be held to account for his behaviour.
Some might argue that we have come a long way. Coercive control has been a recognised crime for several years, domestic abuse is more openly spoken about, while the horrific murder of Sarah Everard and the shocking revelations about the crimes committed by David Carrick have shone a light on the corruption within police ranks.
And yet, the criminal justice system still does not deliver justice for survivors — and many women simply do not trust the police or the court systems. The data speaks for itself. According to Rape Crisis, fewer than two in 100 rapes recorded by police in 2022 resulted in a charge, let alone a conviction.
Given such woeful figures, is it surprising that women remain silent?
Especially women who are alleged to have been assaulted by a famous and successful man, who, as claimed in the investigation by The Sunday Times, “cornered and threatened” a woman after becoming aware of her making allegations against him.
How could any woman in that situation speak out, knowing that she wouldn’t be believed and that, in all likelihood, her career and life would face the consequences of doing so?
Of all the allegations given against Russell Brand this weekend, which he has strongly denied, it is Alice’s account on Dispatches that, to me, has been especially poignant in suggesting the unsuitability of our justice system.
Alice says she was 16 when she met Brand and began a relationship with him. At 16, she can legally consent to a sexual relationship, even if it is with a powerful man, 14 years older than her.
Alice talks about Brand teaching her how to best lie to her parents about meeting with him, and says he banned her from discussing the relationship with her friends, leaving her feeling isolated. She now says she was too young to consent to a relationship with a grown man and that the law should be changed to protect those under the age of 18.
In Alice’s claims about the relationship, you can clearly see apparent controlling and manipulative behaviour, and she also makes a claim of sexual assault. And yet, because she was over the age of 16 and consenting, there is legally nothing that could have been done to protect her, or countless others who could find themselves in a similar situation, charmed by a charismatic, powerful man.
In addition to the justice system, there is another we must hold to account — namely the TV industry that is said to have enabled this situation.
As with so many allegations that relate to men in the entertainment industry.
Why was this allowed to continue, if indeed it was known about? Why didn’t companies do more to get to the bottom of these rumours and sometimes, outright allegations?
Six years on from the #MeToo movement, how are we still in a place where the entertainment industry seemingly takes no action when it allegedly hears about such behaviour from its talent?
Are we still in a place where taking no action is seen as remaining neutral, as opposed to the reality — taking no action tolerates misogyny, allowing abuse to thrive. This weekend’s revelations have been shocking, disturbing and for countless survivors, triggering awful experiences from the past.
But perhaps what remains most concerning about them for us, is how similar they are to all those made before them.
Feeling safe at home, at work and on the street is a basic human right.
So why are women still being denied this, especially in the face of celebrity and the power that brings?
What has to happen for things to really change?