Russell Brand is the focus of countless media outlets after the publication of an explosive joint investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches and the Sunday Times alleging rape, sexual assaults, and abuse against four women. The incidents described are alleged to have taken place at the height of his fame, between 2006 and 2013, and one involves a 16-year-old girl. Brand strenuously denies any wrongdoing and says all his sexual encounters have been ‘consensual’.
Commentators have gone in a number of directions with this story. For some, it’s another example of a powerful male celebrity using his status to brutalise women – a sign of toxic culture that needs to be addressed. Others have focused on the rights or wrongs of ‘trial by media’. Whilst more fringe elements allege a co-ordinated take-down of Brand by “mainstream media”, due to his anti-establishment views on issues like the pandemic, and globalist political agendas.
For what it’s worth, I think the right reaction to this story involves two things. Firstly, we need to have empathy for the victims of Brand’s alleged sexual assaults. The incidents detailed in the investigation are harrowing and would involve lasting trauma. Secondly, we should reserve judgment on Brand’s guilt or innocence. We the public don’t ultimately know. It is possible that the allegations will lead to police investigations. More information will emerge.
We need to have empathy for the victims
Brand does admit to past “promiscuous” behaviour, whilst using drugs and alcohol and whilst sober. An interview with the comedian in GQ magazine in 2006 resurfaced this week, in which Piers Morgan asked Russell Brand if he was a “more successful sexual predator” after abstaining from alcohol. “Yes”, Brand replied, “but I resent the word ‘predator’. I like to think of myself as a conduit of natural forces.” Asked if being famous ‘helps’ his exploits, Brand added:
“I’ve always been good at pulling because I’m quite charming, and totally dedicated to the cause. But if I talked to ten women in the old days then I’d back myself to pull two or three. Now, I wouldn’t be happy with less than eight or nine. And whereas I would have devoted a lot of time to the seduction depending on the quality of the target, now I just get on with it. Fame has been very helpful in that respect.” This statement, and others, hardly paint Brand in a good light.
Leaving aside the specific case of Russell Brand, I think it’s worth commenting on the wider culture in which he, and others, have operated in the UK. A culture that’s become comfortable with lewd words and behaviour – ‘comic’ routines involving jokes about sexual violence. Today, everything is sexualised. Promiscuity has been normalised through the media and pop culture. Those who propose limits, or abstinence, are sneered at as prudish and old-fashioned.
New attitudes to sex and relationships are laid bare in a report published this week. A National Centre for Social Research study drawing on decades of polling data shows that views on cultural and moral issues have undergone “profound” change. Britons are now far more liberal towards sexual relationships, and marriage. For example, just 24 per cent of people think people should get married before having children today, compared to 70 per cent in 1989.
As a Christian – and someone who is self-admittedly counter-cultural – I’m concerned about the change. For me, and others like me, today’s permissive culture reveals a problematic attitude towards sex. In the last half a century or so, sex has been divorced from its rightful place within the committed, consensual, and mutually respectful marriage relationship and turned into a commodity – a transaction aimed solely at gratification, particularly of men.
Whilst harmful attitudes towards sex have always existed, today’s culture was catalysed through the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, which undermined Christian ethics and championed promiscuity, pornography, and birth control including abortion when a child resulting from sexual union isn’t wanted. The picture before the 60s was far from perfect, of course, but the fallout of the sexual revolution is observable in a plethora of toxic trends.
We see it in widespread sexual harassment in schools, fuelled by free access to violent and degrading pornography. We see it in inappropriate sexual materials aimed at primary-aged children. We see it in the many examples of police officers disciplined for sexual misconduct against women they swore to protect. We see it in the endemic levels of family breakdown in the UK – which frequently involves unfaithful men abandoning women with their children.
Today’s culture was catalysed by the sexual revolution
Christians aren’t the only ones who recognise this, lest our concerns be written off by anti-Christian voices. Feminist author Louise Perry is among an emerging cohort of critics who conclude that the sexual revolution has been profoundly damaging. Perry believes the “freedom” advocated in this society-wide movement has “spectacularly backfired”. Today’s sexual culture, she says, is “destructive”, “divorcing love and commitment from sex and favouring one-night stands, casual ‘hook-ups’ and ‘friends with benefits’ arrangements”.
“Worse still”, she says, “it pressures [women] into promiscuity, bombards them with violent pornography and tells them to enjoy being humiliated and assaulted in bed”. “Society now has a sexual script that is increasingly aggressive and loveless, typified by men sending women pictures of their penises…What all this shows is that sexual liberation — the result primarily of the contraceptive pill which separated sexual activity from procreation — was flawed, largely benefiting men rather than women”.
I long for a world where reports like the ones on Russell Brand are not a regular feature in our news cycles. I know that the vast majority of people reading this week’s headlines will feel the same. To see change, we urgently need to recover a right view of sex. It is not simply a commodity – this leads to humans being objectified. It is not something to be treated casually – this leads to deep hurt and brokenness. We need deep reflection and a societal conversation about this issue.