THE 90-MINUTE special episode of Channel 4’s investigative documentary programme, Dispatches, in collaboration with the Times and the Sunday Times, was a harrowing watch. Last week, it shed light on shocking allegations against star comedian turned political commentator and wellness guru Russell Brand. He denies all the accusations.

Their accounts painted a horrifying picture, including allegations of rape, multiple instances of sexual assault and the disturbing grooming of a 16-year-old schoolgirl. This young girl claims to have been choked by Brand and coerced into performing oral sex. Since the programme aired, more women have found the courage to come forward with their own stories.

The title of the documentary, In Plain Sight, couldn’t be more fitting. It is the normalisation for me. This is what I find the most troubling.

What truly disturbs me is the plethora of images from Brand’s shows where he made lewd and seedy comments that people were expected to find amusing. The audience laughed heartily.

Imagine being a member of the audience or a guest at his show and daring to say: “Actually, I don’t find this funny at all. I find everything you say repulsive.”

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You would likely be met with incredulous looks, accused of lacking a sense of humour and told to relax and take things lightly.

It reminds me of a video from 1990 that still leaves me utterly speechless. It is a clip from a popular literary program in France called Apostrophes, and it features an interview with Gabriel Matzneff, who was, until recently, a highly acclaimed novelist.

The presenter, Bernard Pivot, greets Matzneff with a rather disturbing statement: “If there is one real sex educator, it has to be you, Gabriel Matzneff! Why are you specialised in high school students and little girls?” People laugh politely.

Matzneff, without a hint of shame, proceeds to explain his attraction to young girls in explicit detail. He speaks of his preference for their innocence, their untouched spirits. He even nonchalantly mentioned his sexual encounters with 15-year-olds. It’s all for the sake of literature, right?

Amid this disturbing conversation, there was one voice of reason, Denise Bombardier, a writer from Quebec. She bravely spoke up, stating: “I feel I’m on a different planet. We know that old men attract little girls with candy. Mr Matzneff attracts them with his reputation.” Finally, someone had the courage to call him out.

But instead of being applauded for her bravery, Bombardier was accused of being aggressive. To make matters worse, she received death threats for daring to speak out against Matzneff’s behaviour.

The National: Russell Brand immediately denied that the allegations of sexual assault were trueRussell Brand immediately denied that the allegations of sexual assault were true Fast forward to 2019, and the video resurfaced once again. This time, it coincided with the release of a book titled Le Consentement (Consent) by Vanessa Springora.

In her book, Springora exposed the abuse of power she endured at the hands of Matzneff when she was just 14 years old, while he was a 50-year-old man.

Her courageous account ignited a much-needed debate about the literary world and the media’s complicity in tolerating Matzneff’s pedocriminal behaviour (by the way, this is the word we should all be using – because it is a crime, not a sexual preference, to have this type of intimacy with children), which he shamelessly documented in his numerous books.

I mean, he literally published a book entitled “The Under 16”. So it wasn’t an open secret – it was common, documented knowledge.

As a society, we continue to turn a blind eye to such disgusting behaviour, particularly when it involves wealthy and influential individuals.

With Brand, his obscene behaviour was not just tolerated; it was celebrated. It became part of his persona, woven into a certain vision of masculinity that centred on bragging about sexual conquests and dominance over women. We indulge and promote it, making it something for men and boys to aspire to.

Watching Brand in the documentary, I couldn’t help but think of how boys used to talk about girls in high school. Girls were objectified, treated as tools for pleasure, judged, ranked. They strutted around with the confidence of those who knew they could do whatever they pleased, with little or no consequence.

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With these men, we struggle to label these behaviours as predatory. We can’t bring ourselves to use words like “rape” and “sexual assault” to describe what they do to women. Because it is too horrifying to contemplate.

The men we put on pedestals, the men we seek to elevate, calling them criminals? Surely not. Not naming the behaviour allows us to evade responsibility. This way, we can all pretend everything is well and normal, and we can carry on with our jolly lives.

This point is brilliantly articulated in Virginie Despentes’s raw and thought-provoking essay, King Kong Theory. She highlights how men who commit violence against women and girls never admit to it outright.

They downplay their actions, whether they impose sex on someone who is drunk or threaten them with a knife. If you are lucky, they will say that they weren’t on their best behaviour. But they never say the actual words.

IT is a distressingly effective strategy because it makes it difficult even for survivors to say the word “rape”. They say they had a bad experience from which they need to move on. They take on the responsibility to heal from it, while their abuser will never lose sleep over what they did.

Moreover, some employ the strategy of portraying themselves as victims. You see, they couldn’t help it; they lost control. They argue that the other person was too tempting, too arousing. When called out for their actions, they act offended.

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If they did anything wrong, it wasn’t their fault! We are expected to believe they are first and foremost good guys who couldn’t resist their urges, and they deserve our sympathy because it is so hard for them.

And then, finally, the cherry on the cake, the classic argument to end all arguments: they cry witch-hunt, persecution and silencing, which is rather comical when accused individuals who claim they are being silenced have massive platforms and audiences.

Brand’s present-day career centres on podcasting, earning from YouTube ads, and offering memberships in his online community. When the allegations were made public, Brand released a video in which he portrayed the accusations themselves as an assault on his right to free speech, an attempt to end his career.

What he is saying is that there is a bigger plot to silence voices like his. Even the likes of Elon Musk chimed in, suggesting that journalists might be trying to stifle competition.

This unfolding scenario is all too familiar and infuriating. The fear that it will ruin his career is giving a sense of deja vu. Statistically, men are more likely to be victims of rape than falsely accused of it. In fact, the numbers show that men are “230 times more likely to be raped than to be falsely accused of rape”.

Men with a history of abusive behaviour towards women continue to make films, release albums, write books; heck, they even hold positions of power. Look, even Matzneff, who is being formally investigated for rape of minors, has found a new publisher – because, see, he is the real victim, according to him. His new publisher ended up postponing the release of his latest book but still supports him, calling him “a literary great who has been dragged through the mud”.

And then, we wonder why victims of sexual violence stay silent.

Anyone who feels affected by any of these issues can contact Rape Crisis Scotland on 08088 01 03 02