Russell Brand Russell Brand, 2014. Photo: D B Young / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Terina Hine looks at the case of Russell Brand, and argues it is symptomatic of much wider attitudes to sexual exploitation 

Amongst the furore over Russell Brand it is important to remember that the key to sexual abuse is power and that the relationship between sexual assault and power has a very long history. Those at the top often feel a sense of entitlement, believe that ordinary rules do not apply to them. When they get caught their charisma, fame or charm, that sprinkle of magic that got them to their high-powered position in the first place, plus the threat of legal injunctions, will get them out of trouble. For years this philosophy was proved correct.

In the case of Brand, whether illegal or not a sexual relationship between a 16-year-old girl and a 30-year-old celebrity is disturbing, the power imbalance extreme. The testimony the young woman in question gave to the Sunday Times and Dispatches documentary is hard to listen to; that a taxi driver begged the girl not to go into Brand’s house speaks volumes and begs the question why this driver was able to see what Brand’s producers and programme makers so conspicuously failed to notice. Whatever happens, whatever happened, more women are now reporting criminal as well as merely unpleasant encounters with the star, and reporting how the comedy industry is infused with misogyny.


Justice must be sought for individual victims, and Brand now faces four serious allegations of rape, assault and emotional abuse. But perhaps the most important issue to arise out of this sordid affair is why the establishment let him get away with things for so long? Perhaps the seriousness of the cases were unknown, but his attitudes were certainly there for all to see and his verbal abuse on air for all to hear. Many now claim Brand’s abusive behaviour was an open secret in the industry.

The simple answer is money and power. Brand was undoubtedly a star, on the BBC, Channel 4 and latterly in Hollywood. He edited the New Statesman, went out with Jemima Khan after his marriage to Katie Perry ended. A few years after winning ‘Shagger of the Year’ in The Sun (three times), Prospect magazine named him the fourth most influential thinker in the world. Brand often took up left wing positions, before becoming increasingly influenced by right wing conspiracy theories. Those on the left who defend him, or claim that his anti-establishment views are the reason for his being targeted, are profoundly mistaken however. Sexual abuse can happen across the political spectrum and can never be justified.

Lad culture

That sexual abuse is prevalent in the entertainment industry is certainly nothing new. Whatever is said about Russell Brand being a product of the ‘lad culture’ of the early noughties, or that the culture in the industry inevitably leads to abuse, clearly misses two very obvious points.

Firstly, that Brand is just the latest in a very long list of celebrities and other powerful men accused of sex crimes. And secondly that sexual promiscuity is not the same as sexual abuse or rape. Stars and star-makers abusing their position to obtain sexual ‘favours’ predates Brand as much as it does Harvey Weinstein. Rape and abuse occur in monogamous relationships and in a vast array of settings. Being promiscuous does not make you a rapist any more than it should make you a victim.

What does stand out as an overarching feature in cases of sexual abuse and rape is the power imbalance between victim and perpetrator. That and society’s willingness to overlook, normalise, excuse and tell victims that sexism and sexual assault are just perils of working life.

Let’s take some examples, it is not as though they are difficult to find.

There’s Crispin Odey, the prominent hedge fund manager and major Conservative party donor, who faces multiple accusations of serious sexual misconduct. Odey was forced out of his firm following a Financial Times investigation in June this year, which alleged he had sexually assaulted or harassed at least 13 women over 25 years. Following the report another seven victims came forward. The majority worked at his firm. He now faces legal charges. Until the FT report he was deemed untouchable. Clearly questions need answering about why he was able to continue as a leading financier for so long, why the firm tolerated his behaviour, and why it took journalists rather than the Financial Conduct Authority to ‘out’ Odey, who when under investigation for one incident, excused his actions by claiming he was under the influence of drugs following dental treatment.

Another case that also came to light in June was that of tech entrepreneur, former Tory candidate for mayor of London, and Downing Street adviser, Daniel Korski. The alleged offences are not as serious as those of Odey or Brand, and certainly far away from those of Harvey Weinstein, but they are clearly work place assaults of a sexual nature, often conducted in public places in plain sight. A number of MPs have been suspended or sanctioned by parliament in recent years over claims of sexual abuse.

Police abuse

Then there’s the shameful Metropolitan Police. It was revealed earlier this month that roughly 1,600 officers and staff are under investigation for alleged violence against women or sexual abuse. Over 1,000 officers have been suspended or put on restricted duties while the investigations are carried out. That’s the number of officers in a small police force, and does not include convicted rapist and murderer Wayne Couzens, nor multiple rapist David Carrick, nor PC James Murray charged with rape, strangulation and a host of other offences, some of which were committed whilst on duty.

And of course it is not just here in the UK. The case of Dominic Strauss-Khan shocked the world back in 2015. The former IMF chief and presidential hopeful was acquitted of ‘aggravating pimping’ although clearly asked to have call girls made available to him at the Carlton Hotel in Lille, and openly referred to women as ‘pieces of meat’ and ‘equipment’ in text messages. Female journalists told how they would try not to conduct interviews with the head of the IMF alone, and that there had been rumours for years about Strauss-Khan’s conduct, dismissed by colleagues as an overreaction. He was, after all, head of the IMF. The most serious charge (sexual assault and attempted rape) against Strauss-Khan was resolved with an out of court financial settlement. The main take-away following his three-week trial in Lille for pimping was, according to Guardian journalist Catherine Bennett, that powerful men can afford excellent lawyers.

Strauss-Khan did lose his chance to become president of France, unlike fellow Bank grandee, Rodrigo Chaves, who found his record of sexual harassment as a senior economist at the World Bank did not prevent him becoming president of Costa Rica. Despite a record of sexual harassment of female colleagues over a period of four years and involving six women, Chaves was merely demoted – not sacked – by the Bank. After Chaves moved on of his own accord, the Bank’s labour tribunal admitted the case had been mishandled.

In 2021 a Sky documentary Look Away recorded how ‘baby groupies’ (teenage girls) were groomed in the 1960s and 1970s by some of the music industry’s biggest stars. In the film many of those who worked in the business acknowledged their complicity by passively not seeing or actively covering up, power and status giving a free pass for sexual abuse. Has anything changed?

Our culture and society allows powerful men to act with impunity, permits and colludes in demeaning, objectifying and abusing women. The real scandal here is not about an individual celebrity but about how the establishment, employers, investigators – the very people women rely on for support and protection – have either turned a blind eye to serious wrongdoing for decades, or, as in the case of the Met police, are perpetrators themselves.

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