The indefensible defense of Russell Brand

Russell Brand’s lies fuel backlash against sexual abuse victims, driven by paranoia and populism.

On Sept. 18, The Onion, a satirical news organization, reported “Nation Could Have Sworn Russell Brand Was Already Convicted Sex Offender.” To those familiar with Brand’s past, a report detailing years of sexual violence was hardly surprising. His controversial rise to stardom was based on him being an objectifying womanizer

Russel Brand’s trial in the court of public opinion has become a dire warning for the state of women’s rights in America, and an alarming example of how blind partisan loyalty has taken precedence in the American right-wing. 

In recent years, Brand, an established comedian, transformed himself into a beacon of misinformation for the alt-right, and this status has become his lifeline. His anti-media rhetoric, defined by conspiracy theories and a persecution complex, has cultivated a base with an unshakable conviction of his integrity.

A day before YouTube demonetized Brand’s content, he addressed the allegations for his over 6.6 million subscribers. Understanding his paranoia-filled response—and why it worked—can shed light on the American underbelly we often struggle to accept: the growing world of online conspiracy theorists.

Heavy with misinformation, Brand’s two-minute response could be Russell Brand the actor grifting to an audience disillusioned by political institutions. Or it could be Russell Brand the YouTube conspiracist paranoid of the shadowy machinations of mainstream outlets. Or even a calculated mix of the two. 

But his outlandish statements were not discarded as such. American TV host Greg Gutfeld doubted the victims’ intentions saying, “People don’t go to the cops for their own reasons.” Charlie Kirk, Ben Shapiro, and Tucker Carlson all came out with similar statements. Elon Musk tweeted: “I support Russell Brand.”

The evidence and interviews assembled by journalists detail the stories of four women Brand sexually abused, and the report is as jarring as it is conclusive: Russell Brand is a serial sexual predator. But for the millions of Americans who consume right-wing media, Brand is the victim of a witch hunt. Being demonized by the left and demonetized by YouTube energizes his base all the more, and proves to them the accuracy of his narrative. His skillful villainizing of the system makes him the victim. 

What Brand’s supporters discredit as woke media lies are in fact the horrible, pervasive realities of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. And while it is easy to disregard them as radical, fringe, or downright crazy, Brand’s resilience is proof that they wield true power at the heart of American institutions. 

This story is as much about party loyalty as it is about the persistence of the patriarchy. It is no coincidence that when the crime is objectifying and degrading women, the punishment is suddenly lax. This lenience towards Brand could not have occurred if rampant media skepticism and alt-right misogyny were not already commonplace in the conservative mainstream. 

As partisan loyalties overshadow deep-seated misogynistic issues, the messaging from the post-Trump right is increasingly clear: fight the noble fight and you will find support from a powerful network of conservative influences. Feign conspiracy and rape allegations carry no weight. 

The case of Russell Brand is a damning indictment of the American political landscape, and a terrifying alarm in the fight for women’s rights. Russell Brand is an alleged rapist and confirmed conspiracy theorist but to the American right, the latter has proven more important than the former.


Survivors speaking up as Canada continues to investigate Mindgeek

Content warning: This article covers topics such as sexual abuse and the sexual exploitation of minors. 

On Feb. 19, the House of Commons ethics committee heard several survivors’ accounts of being traumatized by Pornhub’s refusal to take down exploitative videos from its website, which included sexual abuse and underage individuals.

The survivors said their traumas were exacerbated due to Pornhub’s continuous refusal to remove such videos. These survivors, living in the United States and Canada, explained how Pornhub, which is owned by Mindgeek, had constantly rejected their pleas for action made through all available channels.

In fact, there are numerous allegations of this kind. For long, Mindgeek has been accused of hosting abusive content, such as rape and exploitation of underage girls. For instance, last January, an Ontario woman initiated a $600 million class-action lawsuit against Mindgeek, alleging she was videotaped being raped as a 12-year-old, and the recording was posted on Pornhub.

On Feb. 5, top executives of Mindgeek testified before the House of Commons ethics committee. In the face of these accusations, they still claimed they run “the safest adult platform in the world right now.”

In 2004, two Concordia graduates, Stephane Manos and Ouissam Youssef, founded an entity in Montreal named “Mansef,” where the main function was to hold links to various free pornographic websites, and sold these assets after six years. After another change of ownership in 2013, this company got its current name Mindgeek, which is most well known for its flagship website Pornhub. Manos and Youssef successfully continued their entrepreneurship journey, and now run Valsef Group — a technology investment group mostly focused on software business. In 2019, they contributed to Concordia’s District 3 Innovation Centre to support the “ANA Avatar XPRIZE” competition.

Mindgeek, the company they once founded and nurtured, continued its impactful journey. In terms of traffic, Pornhub has always remained in the global top list. However, since this past year, Mindgeek has come under significant backlash for different controversies.

Run from a commercial complex on Decarie Boulevard in Montreal — along with its other offices in the United States, Luxembourg and Cyprus — Mindgeek possesses some impressive statistics. According to the company website, every day it has over 115 million visitors and 15 terabytes of content uploaded.

On March 8, 2020, International Women’s Day, a large protest took place outside Mindgeek headquarters in Montreal, as part of a continuous campaign. Similar demonstrations occurred in the same location on Oct. 2, the International Day of Non-Violence.

This protest ultimately turned into a weekly practice, which continued even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every Tuesday from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., activists and demonstrators protest outside Mindgeek’s Montreal headquarters. This endeavour is being led by “Stop Exploitation Hub,” a Quebec-based non-partisan and non-religious campaign against Mindgeek.

In early December 2020, The New York Times published a special op-ed which detailed experiences of women victimized by this website, as it continued monetization on content depicting child rape, and revenge pornography (when someone publicizes intimate photos of their former partner without their consent).

Some of them narrated how videos depicting them being raped as an underage girl were never removed from the website, even after years of requesting Pornhub to take them down.

On Dec. 4, 2020, after being asked during his regular press briefing, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his deep concern over the issue and stated that the government would continue to work with its law enforcing agencies to tackle it.

After a week, a motion was unanimously passed in the parliament, asking senior officials of Mindgeek to testify regarding recent allegations before the House of Commons ethics committee, which ultimately happened on Feb. 5, 2021.

A crucial development occurred on Dec. 10 2020, when Mastercard and Visa announced that they had started blocking their customers from using their credit cards to make purchases on Pornhub, due to the presence of unlawful content on the site (Paypal enforced similar blocking in 2019). These steps by online payment giants have been hailed by anti-pornography activists.

Consequently, Mindgeek announced some policy changes on their end: suspending uploads and downloads from all non-verified users and deleting millions of non-verified videos — which were nearly 80 per cent of its hosted content. Mindgeek has announced that it is implementing a standard third-party system, Yoti, for user identity and age verification.

Enforcing age verification for adult sites has been a long demand of the activists. Online age-verification technologies — ID document or face-based verification for anyone accessing the site —  which are commonly used in some countries to verify people intending to buy age-restricted products (such as alcohol, weapons, banking services), are now getting more sophisticated through artificial intelligence.

In 2017, the UK became the first country to legislate mandatory age verification of adult sites. A similar bill is currently under consideration in Canadian parliament. German authorities are currently working with Microsoft to develop a “globally unique” AI process to combat child pornography.

Rapid emergence of digital technology during the last two decades has obviously increased the availability of pornographic contents. However, such tech tools can be utilized to curb the damaging consequences of pornography as well.

Choosing a balanced approach is crucial in this regard. One good example can be how Tumblr (a popular American social networking platform) banned all sorts of adult content in 2018 after discovering uncontrollable presence of child pornogrpahy in their site.

While Mindgeek focuses on surviving amid their current challenges, the Ethics committee will continue to hold hearings to prepare a recommendation report for Parliament on if, and how, Ottawa should intervene in the issue.

Disclaimer: Azfar Adib is a recurring volunteer with “Stop Exploitation Hub.” 


Photograph by Christine Beaudoin


It’s all violence, and it’s all wrong

Recognizing that sexualized violence against women of colour is an unacknowledged crime

Andrea J. Ritchie is a lawyer whose speciality is police misconduct. In her 2017 book, Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Colour, she reveals that there are no clear statistics on the violence perpetrated by police against women of colour in the United States. “Although national data show more black men are killed at higher rates than women,” Ritchie writes, “those numbers don’t tell the whole story […] There are no numbers counting police rape or police sexual harassment or unlawful strip searches.”

Women of colour face incidents of police violence in statistically smaller numbers than men of colour, but they are targeted in a particular way. According to the Huffington Post, in 2015, a black woman named Charnesia Corley was stopped by Texas police for allegedly running a stop sign. The officers who stopped her said they smelled marijuana in her car, which, in Texas, is grounds for a cavity search.

Corley said she “felt raped” after the officers publicly searched her vagina for 11 minutes. Her lawyer, Samuel Cammack III, said a police officer “body slammed Miss Corley, stuck her head underneath the vehicle and completely pulled her pants off, leaving her naked and exposed in that Texaco parking lot.”

The officers involved in Corley’s case were charged with “official oppression,” but those charges were later dropped. Corley is currently pursuing a civil case against them, according to the same article. This case is an example of how police violence against women of colour often takes on a sexualized tone.

The lack of statistics available on sexualized police violence seems to point to the conclusion that sexual violence against women is not considered a form of police violence in American society. In my opinion, this lack of information is to be expected in a society that, as a whole, doesn’t take sexual violence, especially against women of colour, as seriously as it should.

Here in Canada, according to Sexual Assault and Rape Statistics Canada, only six out of every 100 sexual assaults are reported to the police, suggesting that many victims don’t trust police or the judicial system. If the government doesn’t even consider it necessary to categorize these actions as violence and gather statistics on them, should we be surprised that they fail to press charges against the officers accused of committing them?

This case reminds me of a situation very far north of Texas, in Val d’Or, Que. In 2016, the Crown decided not to convict six police officers accused of sexual misconduct against a number of Indigenous women. According to the CBC, there were 37 complaints filed against local police by members of the community, including sexual harassment and rape. As with Corley’s case, this situation involved a specific type of police violence, one that is both sexualized and racialized.

These cases demonstrate that women of colour are often the victims of not only violence but a dehumanizing form of sexual violence. Both Corley’s and the Val d’Or cases reinforce the notion that sexual violence is not really considered violence in North American society, and that public officials still fail to be properly reprimanded for the disgusting acts they commit.

Graphics by Alexa Hawksworth

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