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The One With The Collective Hurt

TRIGGER WARNING . . . This blog post includes content surrounding sexual abuse and the trauma derived from it.

It's so hard to know where to start with this one.

Do I share with you the countless WhatsApp messages that have gone between me and my female friends all week?

Do I send you to article links that have simultaneously blown my mind and shattered my heart?

Do I let you in on the five hour talk (yes, five) I recently had with a best friend of mine in a Beefeater pub? A talk that dropped heavily over the chunky chips and tainted our Diet Cokes with a startling sadness?

Do I tell you about how my own boys gave me a wide berth last Sunday? Perhaps knowing, somewhere in their young souls, that there was an ancient hurt crashing into the present day, casually wounding their mum along with millions of other women?

I just don't know where to start.

Picture shows Abi with her head in her hands. Her hands are covering her face. She is wearing a grey top and blue nail varnish and she has a decorative tattoo on her left forearm. Her hair is messy, short and blonde.
It's a true head-in-your-hands moment

What I do know, is where I won't start.

I won't start with his name. I won't start with his image. I won't start with "Oh but his comedy is so good," or "He's always been so authentic," or "But I saw him in the street once and he seemed fine." I don't want to go there. The collective hurt won't let me.

And for once, I don't care how dramatic I might seem. I don't care if I fit into the panicked, patriarchal stereotype of a hysterical woman making a fuss over nothing. This is not nothing. It's not surprising, but it's definitely not nothing.

Among other things, that's one of the most cuttingly paradoxical things that has hit me about all of this. How can I watch an investigatory documentary that took years to gather evidence for, and instantly acknowledge that none of the sexual abuse allegations are surprising yet sit in the knowledge that I liked him for so long? How could I have followed him, watched his videos, shared his clips, gone to see him live, if even a sliver of my soul thought he was capable of such things?

What does that say about me?

(NB: Note how my psyche immediately made me attack myself. Something us women are SO good at. Hmm. I wonder why?)

Picture shows a screenshot of the Channel 4 Dispatches programme named: 'Russell Brand: 'In Plain Sight'
The Dispatches Programme

And, of course, this isn't about me. At all. But it is about women. And, sadly, girls too. And in the desperately disturbing allegations I heard in Dispatches, I felt a deep, resounding thump that didn't just hurt, it stabbed. Hard.

I would challenge you to find one single female who hasn't got at least one experience of male coercion, manipulation and / or abuse. No matter how deeply they have to reach into their truth, it will be there. Some don't have to reach deep at all. Sometimes it doesn't take five hours at a Beefeater pub, right?

I know people talk about trial by social media and how unfair it is, blah, blah, blah - but if we think about it, stories have always broken among the people first and been tackled by the law second. If, after being savaged by abuse, we even feel able to speak to anyone, surely it's in the very core of human nature to do that with people we know and trust? And it spirals out from there, just like a pebble dropped into a pond. These days we have fewer pebbles and ponds and more hashtags and algorithms, but the process is the same.

Picture shows a large pond at sunrise or sunset with mountains and tall reeds in the background. In the foreground there is a ripple in the water moving outwards in gentle circles
The ripples are inevitable

Obviously though, the legal system will do its thing now. It has to. It should. Shutting down his platform options is just the start, not a conspiracy, as he would have you believe. And I'm saying these words as someone who bloody loved him, you know? There are few celebrities I am dazzled by, but he was one. Turns out dazzling isn't all that.

Mind you, when I went to see him at Newcastle City Hall a few years ago, the dazzling perhaps morphed into something else. As was his M.O., he leapt into the crowd at the end of the gig and absorbed himself into the people. My friend - who knew how into him I was - looked at me and said, "Come on then, you're finally going to meet him now."

I nodded out of, well, inevitability, I guess. But the peculiar ripple down my spine didn't match the nod. I looked over at him, almost in touching distance, and knew that at any other gig with any other person I might have adored (as in my Derren Brown experience), I would be there with bells on. I'd be getting selfies and asking questions and doing my best to get a blog-worthy experience out of it. Instead, I told my friend I wanted to go home.

Now I'm not saying I knew. How could I? On that night though, I felt that meeting him would be 'too much'. Like I wouldn't be able to take it. Like it would be too scary. At the time, I assumed it was just fan-girling overload. And in the same way that meeting Take That aged 14 was pretty overwhelming, I knew that actually connecting with him might just tip me over some kind of edge I'd never be able to scramble back from.

Maybe that instinct was right.

Picture shows Abi's feet in black Converse trainers standing on a concrete ground and next to a heart-shaped pattern in the concrete
Let the instinct always be love

There's no easy answer to any of this. There's no neat and tidy conclusion to draw and the heat and mess and hurt of it all will continue, there's no doubt. He is not the first person to be accused of such nightmarish things, and we all know he won't be the last. But please, please can he be the last one to be rewarded, promoted, enabled? That's just got to stop.

I know I'm writing in a particular moment of time and that stories like this change quicker than the blink of an eye. But I felt compelled to openly admit that I was really, really wrong and to say that I want to do so much better. Having said that, I refuse to make this all about women 'doing' or 'knowing' better. For fuck's sake, we should be able to walk around with our heads in the actual clouds and still not be attacked, raped and murdered. Why do we have to be the ones on guard all the time?

Close-up on Abi's neck. She is wearing a multi-coloured, beaded necklace with the initial 'A' and a gold necklace with the scripted words, 'Fuck the Patriarchy'. She is wearing a bright pink top.

I live in a household of men who are pretty damn cool. Two of them, I brought into the world myself - nursed them, nurtured them, empowered them. They're now aged 12 and 15 and I don't want them slotting into a world where they feel authority over anybody. Last weekend, after I watched Dispatches, they asked me if I was ok, brought me tea, asked if I wanted to talk about it. We did. Quite a lot. But how can they know the depths of damage allegedly caused by this man and many before him? How can they possibly know the hurt, the pain, the hopelessness, the terror?

And in the same breath, I hope they never know it.

It's hard to know what to do with all of this.

Right now, the only thing I know to do with it is to write this blog post. It's been chipping away at my consciousness all week so here I am . . . sharing with you my scruffy, chaotic analytics about something that has struck me very hard. But there is one resolute truth I can carry forward, and I hope you will too. A truth that bumps up against years of patriarchal indoctrination so it needs a lot of us to get behind it (men and other genders too please).

Listen to the women.

I think it was the mighty Annie Lennox who said, “If one woman is suffering, then we are all suffering, and we need to put a voice to that.” That's what I'm taking into my week, my month, my year, my life.

I hope you do too.

Go well,



If sexual abuse has affected you and you need support, please consider some of these amazing organisations:

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