Popular British YouTube vlogger Sam Pepper is facing sexual assault accusations after posting a controversial video. The video, which has since been deleted from YouTube, shows Pepper pinching women’s bottoms without consent while asking for directions on the street. The video caused uproar within the YouTube community and on social media. Pepper posted a second video with the roles reversed, this time having a woman pinch men’s bottoms. A third video explained his intention to raise awareness for sexual assault—especially against men—explaining that there is often a double standard when addressing victims. He also claimed that the women in the video were actresses and consented to participate in his project.
Pepper has a history of creating predatory “prank” videos against unsuspecting strangers. In a recently deleted video titled “How to Get a Girlfriend EASY,” Pepper grabs women’s wrists from behind and handcuffs them to his. These women were not actresses and their reactions were genuine. The women looked visibly uncomfortable and most said things along the lines of “take this off” and “get away from me.”
Another deleted video shows Pepper throwing a rope lasso around women from behind and telling them, “You’re mine now.” In some instances, Pepper refused to let the woman go unless she gave him a kiss. In the midst of this controversy, a handful of female fans came out and accused Pepper of sexually and emotionally abusing them via the Internet and during his concerts and events. The accusations ranged from soliciting underage nude photos to rape.
There is an emerging trend of male Internet celebrities using their status to manipulate and abuse often underage, female fans. Pepper joins music vloggers Tom Milsom and Alex Day, who were accused of various instances of sexual assault earlier this year and were dropped from their YouTube record label.
The YouTube community needs to be more active against problematic content creators. After the Milsom controversy, a group of fellow vloggers vowed to create a safer space for fans, but there has not been significant change.
Teenage girls face a lot of negativity from the media. They make up a demographic that is constantly scrutinized and seldom taken seriously. Musicians whose fame is mostly owed to teenage girls, such as One Direction, are often criticized simply for the fact that they’re targeted towards girls. Things that teenage girls like are considered sissy or uncool.
The YouTube vlogging community connects with a vast number of teenage, female fans and it should be a place for these girls to feel safe and included. When predators invade these safe spaces, we must question the dedication of the community to enact and enforce boundaries between vloggers and fans.
In Pepper’s case, his history of inappropriate videos should have been a red flag to the rest of the community. There needs to be a combined effort from both males and females to make teenagers feel comfortable reporting assault. The power complex between vlogger and fan and the pressure not to betray a beloved celebrity make it difficult to take early action against an offender.
Vloggers like Pepper need to be exposed and cut out from the YouTube community. Teenage fans should not feel threatened or uncomfortable in a community that is meant to be creative, safe and fun.