sexual assault and the youtube community
Usually when we hear about sex scandals, our minds may think of sports players, music stars and private schools; not self-made celebrities on YouTube. Yet as more allegations of abuse come to light, and the amount of content being made demoralising women increases, it is important that we have an open conversation.
This story has developed throughout the year, with it coming to a head on 26 September and the days that followed.
On Saturday 20 September, Sam Pepper uploaded a video to YouTube called “Fake Hand Ass Pinch” in which he went up to women asking for directions and pinched their bums. This video sparked major backlash from the YouTube community and within two days the video was removed.
On the 22nd, Sam shot a video that showed the same situation reversed. This video was also removed.
It was when his third video, “Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank – THE REVEAL”, posted on the same day as the second, revealed to his audience that these videos were in fact scripted and all the women in it were not assaulted, but willing participants in the prank. He said that witnessing sexual assault and being a victim himself, the videos aim was to highlight the issue. Translation: he was raising the issue of sexual assault by sexually assaulting women.
This is not the first time Sam Pepper has created videos like this; in the past he has lassoed women and has handcuffed women to him and says he will only release them ‘if they kiss him’.
At the time, YouTuber and sex education activist, Laci Green, published an open letter to Sam, co-signed by creators including John Green, Tyler Oakley and Grace Helbig, which stated:
‘We are deeply disturbed by this trend and would like to ask you, from one creator to another, to please stop. Please stop violating women and making them uncomfortable on the street for views. Please stop physically restraining them and pressuring them to be sexual when they are uncomfortable. Please show some respect for women’s right to their own bodies. While it may seem like harmless fun, a simple prank, or a “social experiment”, these videos encourage millions of young men and women to see this violation as a normal way to interact with women. 1 in 6 young women (real life ones, just like the ones in your video) are sexually assaulted, and sadly, videos like these will only further increase those numbers.’
An anonymous YouTuber uploaded a video on 24 September retelling her story of sexual manipulation. The video is provided below. (Warning: it contains distressing sexual content, so please watch it at your digression.)
Hank Green tweeted: For people asking, it’s safe to assume that people who sexually assault women in “prank” videos will not be welcomed at future Vidcons.
But Sam Pepper is not the first YouTuber to be exposed for their inappropriate conduct. Over the past year multiple male British YouTubers, such as Alex Day, Tom Milsom and a guy called Jason, better known as VeeOneEye, have also been unmasked.
A common thread that has run through this conversation is what does “consent” actually mean, and what constitutes as “consent”.
On 12 March, Alex Day posted a post on Tumblr entitled, On Mistakes, in which he stated:
‘Until yesterday, I thought that I had had only appropriate, though occasionally manipulative relationships with women. However, the model of consent that I followed, not that I specifically thought about it at the time – was that only “no” meant “no.” That is not what consent is. The result of that belief that ‘only no means no’, is that I spent a long part of my life doing shitty things to good people and barely ever realising or acknowledging that I was doing the shitty things.’
Tom and Alex, who were both represented by DFTBA records, were pulled from their website shortly after these accusations. Hank Green, brother of author John Green, (who are better known as the Vlogbrothers and business partners in DFTBA Records) uploaded a video about the topic:
At one point Alex says, ‘What do we do from here like we can either keep complaining about this forever um or we can try and figure out what we can learn from it and I’d like to start there so at some point soon I’m gonna make a video talking about where I think we go from here as a community.’
The community has responded by telling him that he is not a part of the community and that he should stop making videos in the future. According to the YouTube community, he is no longer welcome.
I do not want to include his video because it doesn’t feel respectful to the victims to publicise – and raise ad revenue for – a criminal.
While there are many people speaking out against these YouTubers, they still have their supporters, as is evident with people still subscribed their channels. There have been comment wars between users on opposing sides. I feel that this is because of a few combined factors. To the supporters of the perpetrators, these people are their idols and could do nothing wrong in their eyes. The fans, like the perpetrators, may also be in denial. Despite the evidence, they cannot mentally conceive that a person they idolise could be capable of doing wrong.
In a world where ordinary people can use a platform and have “fans”, it is important that they realise the responsibility they now unwittingly have. These fans take their opinions seriously, lap up every video they produce and potentially use them to influence decisions made within the wider world. YouTubers as a whole need to be made aware, if they aren’t already, of the responsibilities they have. Fans need to keep in mind that the person they see on screen is never the complete person; YouTube may just be a part of their life.
In the future, I hope that the way the community has reacted towards these allegations continues. To support the victims, ban, name and shame the predators and most importantly, talk about this topic openly and honestly, is the only way we can stop it from getting any worse than it already is.