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The 'R' word

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

Trigger warning: sexual assault

Men learn to regard rape as a moment in time; a discreet episode with a beginning, middle, and end. But for women, rape is thousands of moments that we fold into ourselves over a lifetime.Soraya Chemaly, Rage Becomes Her

It’s happening again. The rage. Churning stomach. Hot cheeks. Thick, heavy lump in my throat. Hyper focus on this relentless, draining topic that I keep coming back to. The big one. The all-consuming. The ‘r’ word.

No, it’s not 'r' for Russell Brand. But let’s talk about him. Another classic ‘ladies’ man’ or ‘Jack the lad’. A ‘man slut’. Also, a sexually abusive rapist, it turns out. He’s been accused of sexually assaulting four women.

And here we go again. Another male celebrity. Another man in a position of power. Another media frenzy. Tired, anyone?

We’re talking a long time ago - 2006 was the earliest accusation. I was 16 then. Exactly the same age as one of the girls who claims he groomed her. 16. The age of discovery. Discovering ourselves. Discovering sex. Discovering what men liked and what we liked, what we thought we liked.

I can’t speak for the 16-year-old girl in question, but I can speak for myself. And in 2006, I was living my best and worst life. I was drinking vodka and sambuca shots to the point of passing out in the bathroom, curled up my own vomit. I was dancing to Promiscuous Girl in a tiny black dress and heeled boots. I was meeting boys. I was meeting men. I was going home with them. I usually couldn’t remember going home with them. Occasionally I was going home with the police – usually because I couldn’t stand, and while I couldn’t stand, big grown men were touching me up outside the pub while I lay on the bench unconscious. That only happened once or twice.

I was behaving like a ‘slut’ (we can discuss that word another time), and the boys loved it, and so did I. I thought. Until I woke up the next day and I didn't feel great at all.

And I wasn’t alone. There were loads of us. All part of a huge gang of insecure teenage girls desperate to be adored and desired. Some of us worse than others. I wasn’t perfect. In fact, I was extremely self destructive. Badly behaved. Unfocussed. And I thought that all I had to offer the world was my body. Which I hated and loved in equal measures.

So this girl, my age then, my age now, ‘Alice’, one of the four victims, has accused Russell Brand of grooming and sexually assaulting her, aged 16. She claims he sexually assaulted her during a three-month relationship in 2006 when she was still at school. Apparently, she says, he referred to her as ‘the child’. But 16 is the legal age for consent, isn’t it, Russell?

She’s 33 now. That was 2006. 17 years ago. Picture the scene. She’s out shopping for clothes and a tall, dark, relatively handsome celebrity guy stops her in the street and says buy that dress and wear it on our date later. She tells him she’s 16. He doesn’t care. She's flattered. They go on a date. It leads to a short 'relationship'. He sexually assaults her. She tries to speak up. She is silenced. Nearly 15 years later she tries to speak up again. She remains anonymous.

Why leave it so long? says social media. Why didn’t she say something back then? There's an agenda against Russell Brand! Innocent until proven guilty. One social media post said 'If you are unsure if you got raped after 365 days you were not raped you are just a slut'. Ouch. And when I say 'ouch' I mean really, ouch. Strange how a one liner from a misogynist on Twitter can cause actual, physical pain.

In response to the allegations, Russell Brand makes an Instagram story: There’s an agenda against me! There’s an agenda against me, he says. Horrific allegations. All untrue, of course, he adds.

And we weren’t there. How can we really know what happened? Well apart from the rumours, a report from one of the victims which includes text messages from Russell begging for forgiveness, and a medical report following her visit to the rape centre, his blatant disregard and disrespect towards women throughout his whole career, we don't really 'know' anything.

But consider this.

It’s terrifying being raped.

It's also terrifying thinking that you’ve got it all wrong, that you ENCOURAGED them. You are the 'slut' and maybe you did want it in the first place.

And it’s terrifying speaking out about it. Money or no money. For a start, just saying that word, the 'r' word, makes you feel sick. Did it even happen? Then there's what might happen next. You might not be believed. It's hard to prove a rape that happened 15 years ago with no proof. You against him. Why did you leave it so long? You might get abused on social media. The person you're accusing might turn it around on you. Plus, you're opening a can of worms that usually you manage to keep shut, relatively tight.

This horrific story of Russell Brand is not just one of a past crime that’s been and done, but one of a constant and ongoing issue. An issue that can’t be resolved through a piece of writing, or a debate on Instagram.

I don't know the answer. All I can do is write. And discuss. And try and use the 'r' word, without feeling ashamed.

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