Originally written for Niagara News
The Internet has been the birthplace of many sexual assault scandals, but over the past two months the YouTube community has banded together to stop it.
At the end of September, Laci Green, the YouTuber behind Sex+, released a letter that would soon shake up the community. A letter directed to Sam Pepper, a YouTuber best known for his prank videos involving sexually harassing women in the streets and on beaches in Los Angeles.
The letter was cosigned by many of the YouTube heavyweights, such as the Vlog Brothers, Tyler Oakley and Tomska. This resulted in Pepper being dropped by his managers. YouTube dropped him from many conventions and he lost his corporate sponsorship.
Maeghan Poelstra, a former Niagara College student, said she believes the “prank mentality” is to blame for a lot of YouTube harassment.
“This behaviour is completely disgusting on anyone’s part and this, ‘It’s a prank’ mentality that some YouTubers have is 100 per cent unacceptable and should be stopped. Don’t touch people without their permission, simple as that. Whether it’s their hair, their hand or any of their belongings.”
After the community made it clear he was no longer going to be supported for his actions, women began coming out about their experiences with Pepper.
More than four reports have been filed against him, with allegations of rape and sexual assault. There has been no legal action against Pepper yet, because the women have been silenced for fear of losing their jobs or being targeted.
Green confirms in her video “Sam Pepper Exposed” that one woman did speak out about her case and was sent threatening messages by Pepper himself, as well as his fans.
Chelsea MacDonald, a volunteer at the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton, sees Pepper as the right kind of conversation starter.
“Having an uproar against him gave the space needed to the very brave women who came out with their stories of sexual assault. This is creating a lot of conversations around society’s rape culture and the detrimental consequences it has on people’s lives.”
So why, when there is plenty of evidence, not only on YouTube, but also in official police reports, there has been nothing done to stop him?
Incidents like this are not only happening on the Internet. No matter how many managers drop them, or how many social media partnerships terminate them, they will still be a sexual predator.
A lot of people had opinions about Pepper, but Dwayne Eybel, of Grimsby, Ont., shared his with me.
“Guys like this give guys everywhere a bad rep, and, unfortunately, he gets support from the bro culture that YouTubers like this are born from.”
Cases like this aren’t only happening in Los Angeles, but also in Canada and even in the Niagara region.
On Nov. 9, Australia revoked the visa of Julian Blanc, a controversial pickup artist who hosts seminars for men, teaching them how to pick up women, with the use of force, and even sexual assault. Blanc was sent packing and has plans to reside in Canada, which has stirred a social media outcry and a trending tag of #KeepJulienBlancOutofCanada.
Why does the online community rally to keep sexual predators like this out, but not support the victims already here?
Corey Burrows, a former Niagara College student, spoke of her experiences on the Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) campus.
“I have developed horrible social anxiety due to stuff like this. It got worse after college. I stopped going into the cafeteria at NOTL first, because I’d get catcalls or, later on, random adds on Facebook, saying they thought how hot I was and want to get together. Then it started happening outside of the cafeteria, and in the actual school so I stopped going to the main part of the school altogether unless necessary.”
Burrows did not bring her situation to college officials, as, she said, she did not want any more attention brought to herself.
It is still confusing to me, how people can get away with harassing other people sexually. It is the most simple of concepts. If someone does not want to be touched, or spoken to in a certain manner, then don’t touch or speak to them.
The National Sex Assault Hotline says that 97 per cent of sexual predators receive no punishment for their actions and walk right past the legal system. This is not a statistic with which I am comfortable.
Originally written for Niagara News