Does YouTube Breed a Culture of Sexual Abuse?
By Mike LaPorte
Live Wire Marketing/Advertising Director
I have spent a better part of my adolescence watching YouTube videos. I don’t know if you would call it a guilty pleasure or a pseudo-drug, but there is a certain appeal about YouTube videos that does not surround television or radio.
Granted, videos that are published on YouTube can have television or cinema-quality production levels, and television and movies are not without their own charm either.
I am not a misogynist, nor am I a reverse misandrist, but I believe YouTube does not inherently breed sexual assault. There are some people who want to make you believe that just grabbing a random girl’s rear end in the middle of a city, or making out with a stranger against their will, is totally cool. It’s not cool at all, in any way of shape or form.
Recently the YouTube producer Sam Pepper has been getting a lot of attention. Pepper, started his career as a contestant on the U.K. version of “Big Brother,” and was also known to be a prankster on the show. When he was kicked off the show, he moved onto YouTube and began doing reality prank videos.
His videos became so instantly popular that he collaborated with Gavin Free and Daniel Gruchy of the “Slow Mo Guys” before they merged with “Rooster Teeth,” and even with Benny and Rafi Fine, creators of the “YouTubers React” series.
Pepper’s reputation has changed recently, from a supposedly harmless prankster to a sexual assailant. In the middle of September, he published a video titled “Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank,” where he is shown with arms that appear to go into a grey hoodie he is wearing, but in actuality, his right hand is sticking out of the bottom of it.
He gets into situations where he is talking to girls, and when he gets the opportunity, he grabs their rear end with his free hand, and blames it on someone walking past him but afterward he reveals his hidden hand. In most cases, the girls innocently giggle like it was nothing, but in other cases some of them told him not to do it again and he continues to do it.
This immediately drew criticism from big name YouTube producers, including Laci Green, who published an open letter to Pepper on her Tumblr blog, and invited other famous producers and personalities to co-sign it. Co-signers include Thomas “TomSka” Ridgewell, Hannah Hart, John and Hank Green, Michael Buckley, Tyler Oakley, Meg Turney, and even Wil Wheaton.
“For people asking,” Hank Green went on the record with Twitter to say, “it’s safe to assume that people who sexually assault women in `prank` videos will not be welcome at future VidCons.”
Although I never subscribed to Pepper’s videos, I have seen some of his work and I have heard stories from people who have worked with him in Los Angeles and the U.K.
At the time of writing, the series he posted has been deleted from his YouTube channel, although the original “prank” has been re-uploaded by another user. The “Slow Mo Guys” have deleted their collaboration with him and the Fine Brothers have not deleted their episodes of “YouTubers React” that feature him, even though they did edit the video descriptions that feature him to delete the plug for his channel.
When Pepper noticed a good amount of Internet publicity was being directed toward him in a negative way, he published a second video which he called “Part 2 of 3”. In the video, a girl is doing the same thing Pepper did in his video, except she is doing it to men, and most of the men in the video do not mind it at all.
There is criticism of this video as it was labeled as “Part 2 of 3” and the original video was alleged to have not been labeled as “Part 1” when it was first released.
Finally Pepper released a “Part 3“ of the video, where he attempted to explain that the whole thing was a set up and the people involved in the video were in on it the entire time. He dubbed the series a social-experiment, where he claimed there is a double standard between how men and women are treated when the opposite gender is touched in a sexual manner.
He also made a point of how men are sexually assaulted by women on a regular basis, but women get more attention from this because they are more likely to be perceived as victims and not as assailants.
The majority of the Internet had already chosen which side of the argument they were on, and they obviously were not on his. People began posting stories to Tumblr and YouTube claiming Pepper had sexually assaulted them. Four women have also even accused Pepper of rape and one of them had a medical documentation for proof, according to an exclusive report on Buzzfeed News.
Pepper is not the only person involved in what some might describe as a misogyny, a mistrust or mistreatment of women, in online culture. Vine producer Boris Laursen, film Vines and YouTube videos where he walks up to random girls, kisses them on the lips.
“I just stole a kiss,” he says in his videos, “what are you going to do about it?”
Laci Green mentions in her video response to Pepper’s actions that there are two other YouTubers she’s been “keeping [her] eye on”, SimplePickup and Adrien Van Oyen. These YouTuber producers engage in raunchier actions than what Pepper has even done. This is not the first time Pepper has been accused of sexual assault; this is just the first time it has become a wide spread story.
Does YouTube and the Internet breed a culture of sexual assault against women? For being a part of the YouTube community, I must say that I have seen many unexplainable, screwed up things and it is not just on YouTube but also across the entire Internet. Some videos I have watched were clean-cut sexual assaults disguised as pranks, and some are flimsy claims made by angry ex-girlfriends of famous producers.
The YouTube community really is a wonderful place, and just like anything else, it has its own skeletons in the closet. This should not discourage anyone from watching YouTube videos, but be mindful of what you are watching. The vast majority of content creators on the Internet are good people, and they genuinely love their fans.
Your video views count towards supporting what you are watching, boycott videos of sexual assault and send a clear message to YouTube producers that this is unacceptable. If we as viewers band together, we can keep the filth from our community.
If you enjoy YouTube, that’s great! Keep watching if it makes you happy. If you don’t watch, that’s fine, there are other media in the world for you to consume, like our college newspaper. Either way, don’t be afraid of YouTube or the Internet, and don’t let a few creeps like Sam Pepper or Boris Laursen make you stray away from having fun on the site.