Comedian Russell Brand has been accused of rape and sexual assault by four women who detail incidents that took place over seven years, according to an investigation by the UK’s Sunday Times, the Times, and Channel 4’s Dispatches. Brand denied all allegations in a social media video he posted on Saturday, during which he claimed that these encounters were consensual.
Brand is the latest high-profile figure to face such allegations as more and more people have spoken out about sexual abuse following the rise of the Me Too movement, which shined a light on sexual misconduct by powerful individuals, including film producer Harvey Weinstein. Following the release of the investigation, additional people have come forward with undisclosed allegations about Brand, claims the Times has said they are working to verify.
In the original report, the three publications documented one allegation of rape and three allegations of sexual assault against Brand. These incidents allegedly took place between 2006 and 2013, and occurred while he was working for the BBC, on Channel 4, and in different films as an actor. The BBC and Channel 4 have since said they will be conducting internal investigations.
Historically, Brand has been known for embracing a hedonistic, dirtbag persona as both a comedian and an actor. He’s perhaps most associated with starring in films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, formerly being married to pop star Katy Perry, and performing candid standup comedy in which he spoke about his drug addiction and sexual promiscuity.
The allegations and additional context provided in the investigation underscore what appears to be a pattern of sexual misconduct by Brand as well as recurring abuses of power in his role as a media personality and comedian. The report also comes at a moment in which the enduring effects of the #MeToo movement are evident, as is the backlash it faces.
The allegations against Brand, briefly explained
There were four allegations in the initial report, which uses pseudonyms for all four women to protect their privacy.
Nadia, a woman who had been intimate with Brand, describes being raped by him in his home after rejecting his suggestions of a threesome. She was treated by a rape crisis center following the alleged attack but declined to file a police report at the time due to concerns about her reputation and the backlash she could face. Nadia provided reporters with screenshots of text messages written after the incident, during which she wrote “when a girl says no, it means no,” and Brand replied that he was “very sorry.” Investigators also reviewed her medical records from the crisis center and subsequent counseling sessions to corroborate her account.
Alice was 16, the age of consent in the UK, when she dated Brand, who was 31 at the time, and says that he once forced his penis down her throat.
Alice said that she dated Brand for three months, during which she alleges that he “groomed” her and told her how to frame the relationship to her parents. In one sexual encounter at the end of their relationship, Alice said Brand sexually assaulted her when he shoved his penis in her mouth, even as she was pushing him away. She says she had to punch him in the stomach to get him off of her.
Phoebe had previously had a sexual relationship with Brand, and described a sexual assault that occurred after it had ended. She says that she was working on a project at Brand’s house, during which he removed his clothes, pinned her down on his bed, and put his hand down her pants as she screamed for him to get off of her. She also says she encountered people outside Brand’s home as she was leaving, including one person who later said he heard screaming and apologized for not helping.
A fourth person in the article described allegations of being sexually assaulted, as well as physical and emotional abuse.
In addition to the reporting on the allegations, the investigation included hundreds of interviews with people who knew Brand or had previously worked with him. This reporting also included descriptions from other women of abuses by Brand, including that he flashed his penis at a person on the BBC set and that he threatened and shouted at women who refused to have sex with him. Additionally, it stated that Brand’s approach toward women was an “open secret” among those who worked with him in the industry and that past colleagues at Channel 4 felt their role was to help Brand meet young women.
Only one comedian, Daniel Sloss, spoke on the record about his knowledge of the allegations against Brand. He discussed hearing rumors about Brand and said female comedians warned each other about his predatory behavior.
Me Too has made key inroads but also faces significant backlash
After the movement took off in the wake of a 2017 New York Times investigation, which documented decades of sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein — and led to him being convicted of third-degree rape and a first-degree criminal sexual act — it had a significant impact. In the years since, it’s helped raise awareness of sexual misconduct and emboldened more people to come forward.
The movement, however, has faced backlash in recent months.
Actor Johnny Depp, for example, saw a wellspring of public support during his defamation case against actress Amber Heard after she accused him of domestic abuse. He ultimately won that case. Actor Kevin Spacey was cleared of all charges in a high-profile abuse case in the UK in July. And comedian Louis CK, who was alleged to be a serial sexual harasser, is in the midst of a comeback.
The right has also seized on the Brand allegations as what they say is an example of overreach by mainstream media. The comedian has been boosted by right-wing commentators like Tucker Carlson, Elon Musk, and Alex Jones, who have argued that he’s being attacked because he promotes so-called “alternative views” on his YouTube channel. Currently, Brand is a wellness influencer on YouTube and has previously elevated conspiracy theories about Covid-19 and Ukraine.
There are also lingering questions about how the movement has fallen short in other ways, including whether it’s focused too much on sexual misconduct by individual celebrities versus the impact that such abuses have had on more vulnerable groups, particularly low-income women of color. As CNN noted, over 70 percent of female restaurant workers say they have been sexually harassed in the workplace, an issue that points to systemic and institutional problems that need to change.
These issues have led to concern about the state of Me Too, as my colleague Constance Grady explained. In response to the Depp case, Me Too founder Tarana Burke emphasized that the “movement is very much ALIVE” and should be recognized for how many survivors it has helped come forward, rather than being measured by the outcome of specific cases.
There are indications of its broader success as well. According to a 2022 Pew poll, 70 percent of people believe that perpetrators of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace are more likely to be held accountable now compared to five years prior. And per a 2021 AP/NORC poll, 54 percent of Americans are more likely to come forward about facing an act of sexual misconduct following the Me Too movement.
The Me Too movement’s momentum has been apparent in high-profile cases, too. It was central to the push calling out the actions of Spanish soccer president Luis Rubiales, who forcibly kissed a female player after the team won the Women’s World Cup. Additionally, as the New York Times reported, it has helped bolster the passage of 22 state laws aimed at improving workplace safety and some that extend the statute of limitations for reporting sexual assault. This past year, writer E. Jean Carroll was able to bring a case accusing Trump of rape due to a Me Too-era change in New York state’s law, which allows people to temporarily bring some civil cases even if the statute of limitations has expired on an allegation.
Now, the allegations against Brand appear to be a continuation of this impact.