In recent years, high-profile sexual abuse cases have dominated headlines and social media, shedding light on the pervasive issue of abuse of power in our society.
The latest of these high-profile abuse cases relates to comedian and actor, Russell Brand. In the last few weeks, four women have made allegations of sexual assault, rape and abuse against him. These women have spoken to journalists from Channel 4 and from The Times newspaper. The Metropolitan Police have confirmed they have received a report of a sexual assault in London which took place in 2003. Two of the women have described alleged events that took place in Los Angeles.
While widespread reports like this can be essential for raising awareness and holding perpetrators accountable, they also have a profound impact on abuse survivors. For those who have experienced abuse in their own lives, these high-profile cases can be incredibly triggering and traumatising.
High-Profile Abuse Cases Sensationalised by the Media
One of the primary reasons high-profile abuse cases can be triggering for survivors is the sensationalised nature of the media coverage. These news stories often receive extensive media attention, with graphic details, images, and videos plastered across news outlets and social media platforms. This sensationalism can lead to survivors feeling overwhelmed, as they are forced to confront their own traumatic experiences repeatedly. The constant barrage of overemphasised information can evoke intense emotions and memories, making it challenging for survivors to process their own trauma.
High-profile abuse reports often contain specific details about the abuse, such as the tactics used by the perpetrator, the suffering endured by the victim, or the circumstances surrounding the abuse. These details can act as powerful triggers for survivors, as they may closely resemble their own experiences. For example, if a survivor of domestic violence reads about a high-profile case involving coercive control, they may be reminded of their own abuse and that can reignite the emotions they felt during that time.
Public Blaming and Shaming
High-profile abuse cases often come with public scrutiny, where victims and survivors are closely examined and questioned. This can include victim-blaming, where survivors are unfairly accused of contributing to their own abuse, or not coming forward sooner. It can be deeply triggering, as it echoes the judgment and disbelief they may have faced when disclosing their own experiences in the first place. It can also reinforce feelings of shame and guilt that survivors may already be struggling with.
In addition, those who never reported their assaults may be forced to face elements of their past that they have been desperately trying to forget. Survivors who never reported assaults are often the ones who did not seek professional help to work through their trauma, which can lead to mental breakdowns and, in some cases, suicide.
Instances of high-profile abuse have increased dramatically since the Me Too movement. With the rise in social media news sources, abuse survivors are now exposed to many more triggering news stories than ever before.
The phrase “MeToo” dates back to 2006, when human rights activist, Tarana Burke, coined the term on her MySpace page. It was a signal to other MySpace users that this was a safe space for survivors to open up about their abuse. But the movement kicked off in earnest in 2017 when actress, Alyssa Milano, posted a tweet encouraging people to reply with Me Too if they had ever been abused or assaulted. It was primarily a campaign to elevate the Harvey Weinstein discussion. Within 24 hours, she had received 12 million responses and the hashtag #MeToo had gone viral. The world was awakening to the magnitude of an issue within the elite spectrum and beyond. Some felt that they were able to come forward about their own abuse, while others were forced to relive horrific moments from their past.
Of course, high-profile abusers often have high-profile victims, some of whom came forward to share their own experiences of feeling traumatised by all the abuse in the news. A-list celebrity, Reese Witherspoon, was one of those celebrities who had been triggered by the Harvey Weinstein case. Speaking out about her own abuse by a director as a teenager, she said:
“I have my own experiences that have come back to me very vividly and I find it really hard to sleep, hard to think, hard to communicate a lot of the feelings that I’ve been having about anxiety and guilt.”
It’s not just women that have come forward about sexual assault at the hands of a high-profile figure. Shortly after the inception of the Me Too movement, men ranging in ages came forward to accuse A-list actor, Kevin Spacey, of sexual assault over the course of a 20-year period. Those around Spacey had known about the rumours and there are still long-standing fans who deny the allegations brought against their hero.
High-Profile Abuse Cases Have Powerful People at their Core
Shockingly, one theme that all high-profile abuse cases seem to have in common is that those around the perpetrator in question knew what was going on and either turned a blind eye, weren’t believed when they reported the incidents, or were paid for their silence. It’s hard enough for abusers to find the strength to come forward under normal circumstances. But when great wealth is on the abuser’s side, money can be thrown at the issue to make it silently go away. Or, worse, be used to publicly discredit the abuse survivor.
In the Russell Brand case, Brand’s particular brand of anti-establishment politics has given him something of a cult following. His more die-hard followers are holding strong in their faith that Brand is innocent of any wrongdoing in the face of multiple corroborating accounts by unrelated victims. Brand's remaining fans’ treatment towards the accusers is nothing if not brutal.
In a political climate where some denied witnessing a man sexually assaulting a woman on camera (in the case of the Luis Rubiales kissing Jenni Hermoso at the Final of the Women's World Cup 2023), it’s no surprise that there are those who refuse to believe their idols are anything other than perfect. It underpins the notion that abuse survivors, particularly in the case of high-profile abuse, are simply attention seeking.
When the backlash against those who have come forward to report high-profile cases of abuse is so extreme, it has the knock-on effect of invalidating the claims of every abuse survivor. And victims who have had their claims denied in the past are forced to relive the humiliation of being accused of lying about a terrible event in their lives.
High-Profile Abuse Cases Do Have an Important Place in the Media
While high-profile abuse cases can be triggering, they can also serve as catalysts for survivor solidarity and empowerment. Many survivors find strength in knowing that they are not alone and that their stories are not isolated incidents. When they see others coming forward and speaking out against abuse, it can inspire them to do the same, ultimately contributing to a culture where survivors are encouraged to seek help and justice.
High-profile abuse cases undoubtedly serve a critical role in bringing high-profile abusers to justice. However, it's crucial to recognise that these cases can be deeply triggering for abuse survivors, reopening wounds and causing emotional distress. Media outlets and society at large must be mindful of the impact of their coverage and work to create a more empathetic and supportive environment for survivors. By understanding the reasons behind the triggering nature of high-profile abuse cases, we can better support survivors on their path to healing and recovery.
Support for Survivors of Abuse
The allegations against Brand are in relation to abuse that occurred between 2003 and 2016. There is no time limit for reporting sexual crimes to the police in the UK.
If you have found the media coverage of these high-profile abuse cases triggering, and you now wish to make a claim for historical abuse, we can help. We understand that no amount of money will ever be able to undo what has happened to you, but it can help with paying for the therapy you need to reach a full recovery.
Speak to one of our abuse and assault specialists today.