17 Oct 2014

The Youtube Sexual Abuse Scandal: Abuse Apology And The Forgiveness Of Abusers

Trigger warning for anyone sensitive to themes in the title

If you're an avid 'internet person' you're already more than aware of the Youtube Abuse Scandal. But in the case of this being the first you're hearing of it, here's a quick run down. The abuse scandal was most prominent in March of this year, when many famous Youtube personalities were publicly outed by their victims as rapists, statutory rapists, sexual abusers, sexual harassers and/or emotional abusers. The list of abusers included Tom Milsom, Ed Blann and notably Alex Day - who had a large Youtube following of over 1 million subscribers - along with many more names. Many victims took to Tumblr to share their experience of abuse, with accounts varying in severity. The accused Youtubers were subsequently unwelcome in the Youtube community and soon lost their careers. 

With such a long list of famous Youtubers finally outed as abusers one would be forgiven to assume that no Youtube abusers were left in our midst. But unfortunately the scandal reared its ugly head at the end of last month for a 'Part 2'. This started with famous Youtuber Sam Pepper being accused of sexual harassment in one of his videos, in which he's seen pinching the behinds of unsuspecting female members of the public as part of a prank. The video caused such an uproar that he finally responded by passing the video off as a social experiment. He did this by releasing two following videos; one of a female committing the same acts on males, and another with Pepper explaining the whole thing to be preplanned with everyone involved having agreed to take part, the goal being to raise awareness for sexual harassment. But unsurprisingly not many people were convinced, especially considering that Sam Pepper has a history of making similarly offensive videos. These criticisms then led to much more serious allegations being made against him across Youtube, both by fans and fellow YouTubers alike. And despite some of the girls being visibly distressed in the videos, and also posting evidence to their case, there still have been many people choosing to side with Sam Pepper and discredit the victim accusations; which ranged from sexual harassment to violent rape. Many of these involved underage girls. Pepper indirectly denied the allegations by posting a scan of a letter from his lawyer onto his Twitter which states that he had not been arrested and that he denies any accusations made against him. Separate allegations against Jason from the channel 'veeoneeye' had also started to surface at this time in a similar way, the accusations consisted of statutory rape. Loyal behaviour towards him from fans and onlookers was witnessed once again.

I started being a part of the Youtube community only this summer so wasn't very aware of the first scandal at the time it was happening. But now watching the abuse scandal play out in a big way for a second time has left me contemplating these two questions:

1. Why are people so quick to defend abusers?

In terms of abuse in the Youtube community one element of it comes down to fan culture. Youtube fangirls (or boys) are some of the loyalist and most dedicated fans you will ever come across. Most spend their days tweeting their favourite Youtube stars in order to get noticed, adorning their Tumblr pages with images and information about them, making animated gifs of them, creating fan art dedicated to them, writing fanfiction about them, buying any merchandise or product their Youtuber releases, attending conventions or meet and greets, avidly promoting any new video or project their Youtuber releases. In the more extreme (yet common) cases the fan's whole lives revolve around their favourite Youtube star. They can do no wrong in their eyes. At a glance none of this behaviour is particularly harmful, that is until abuse is added to the mix. Extreme fan culture has already proved dangerous here in the cases of the Youtubers who abused their power and targeted their young, dedicated and impressionable fanbase. But this cycle is at risk of being allowed to continue and normalised due to the extreme fans choosing to remain loyal to their favourite Youtubers, even amidst the extreme accusations. Being a fan means so much to some that even when their favourite star is accused of something as serious as rape their loyalty still can't be deterred. The easier option for the fan is to place the blame on the victim or accuse victims of lying. Or in the cases were the Youtuber admits to their offences and apologises they are quick to accept their apology in the defence that 'everyone should be allowed a second chance'. These examples can be seen all over the comment sections of victim's Youtube videos and in the Twitter replies of the accused Youtubers. 

Of course, 'victim blaming' and 'rape apology' aren't unique to Youtube fangirls. You will also see people who weren't necessarily fans of Sam Pepper desperately trying to poke holes in victims accounts and professing that the victim 'shouldn't have gone back to his apartment if they didn't want sex'. It's hard for me to get my head around why so many people's first instinct is to blame the victim. But one thing I keep coming back to is the dehumanisation of rapists in society. People see a potential victim as in control of their actions but see a rapist as an evil subhuman being whose only purpose on this Earth is to rape. But the Youtube scandal teaches us that that is not the case. These Youtubers are everyday people, like you or me, who so happen to make videos and upload them to the internet. Everyday people who had a choice, like everyone else does, not to hurt others. But instead they made the choice to abuse. And it's they who deserve the blame, not any young girl who idolised an internet celebrity and was simply flattered and excited at their reciprocated attention. Of course it's always important to be wise in who you trust and to try and stay away from potentially dangerous situations when possible. But someone having a lapse of judgement does not mean that they deserve to be raped for it. 

2. Should we forgive Youtube abusers?

With the Sam Pepper fiasco still being rife, two weeks ago Youtube saw the return of disgraced Youtuber Alex Day. He returned with a video titled 'The Past', which he uploaded to his long abandoned channel. In the video he recounts some of the less incriminating accusations against him, telling them from his point of view which render him seemingly innocent. He also reiterates what he had said at the time that the allegations were made; that he didn't realise the girls he was with weren't consenting. And for about a minute after watching this video I actually forgave him. See, Alex Day wasn't ever accused of forcefully raping anyone, but manipulating and coercing girls into sex who weren't comfortable with the idea. I had always been horrified by this but in comparison to Sam Pepper, an alleged ruthless, violent rapist, Alex Day was almost looking angelic. And then I realised, that's probably exactly what Alex Day wants people to think. The timing of his comeback, in the midst of all the Sam Pepper outrage, is likely no coincidence. But luckily I was quickly able to see clearly and realise that what Alex Day did is still wrong and harmful and cannot be taken lightly. And should we believe Alex Day when he says he didn't realise what consent meant but he does now? No, because it’s safer not to. We can never know for sure that he won’t abuse his power again and take advantage of more girls, therefore we cannot welcome him back. Forgiving a sexual abuser on the basis of a (half hearted) apology sends the message to potential abusers that one can get away with rape, as long as you say sorry afterwards. That you can even still maintain adoring fans, and have potential future victims willing to heed your every call. It also normalises sexual abuse and rape, it becomes just another 'mistake' in which one can ask for a second chance after making, which also sends a harmful message to often very young Youtube fans. Horrifically I've even seen a few fans making light of the Sam Pepper accusations by saying that they themselves wish they had been raped by him. It's not safe to continue to let these accused Youtuber celebrities have influence. We essentially now have rapists (some alleged, some not) with hundreds of thousands of fans idolising them. This cannot be encouraged by defending and forgiving said abusers and letting this dangerous cycle continue. 



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