Nobody is Laughing

Charlotte Williams

The pranking community on YouTube, one of the most popular social media websites in the world, has become somewhat of a genre of its own over the years. However, one of its most recent attributions in late September, uploaded by a highly popular content creator with over 2 million subscribers, Sam Pepper, was nothing less than brazen sexual assault.

The video in question, which has the entire Internet up in arms, is one where Pepper explores the street, asking young women for directions. Meanwhile, he creates the illusion that his hands are concealed by tucking the right sleeve of his sweatshirt into his pocket; he then, with his free hand, pinched the unsuspecting women’s butts as they were distracted.

Sam Pepper. Image courtesy of
Sam Pepper. Image courtesy of

Rightfully, the Internet blew up over the sheer lack of decency present in Pepper’s video, and within a few hours, the video had been taken down from YouTube after violating many of the site’s rules and regulations. After the uproarious response Pepper was greeted with, he unexpectedly published a second part to his previous video. The second installment was virtually the same in every way, except for the fact that this time, the roles were reversed, and the assaulter was instead a young woman. This video was also then taken down within hours.

Shortly after, Pepper posted the last video of the trifecta in which he reveals that the whole “prank” had been a social experiment to test the reactions of the YouTube community when the archetypical roles in a sexual abuse case were reversed. Nevertheless, immediately after this last segment was posted, he was met with a flood of angry accusations of hypocrisy and trickery, all of which, I believe, are entirely warranted.

If this had been Sam Pepper’s first offense, I believe that the Internet would have been slightly more forgiving. However, this is not his first time Pepper was accused of sexual abuse. He posted several videos in the past where he contradicts the moral stances he so vehemently asserts he has in part three of his “prank” series, where he goes forth to harass a number of young women in a multitude of ways, such as handcuffing himself to them and promising their freedom only under the premise that they kiss him, throwing a lasso around them in the streets and asking for their phone numbers/to kiss him in exchange for releasing them. In addition, many young women, including former fans of the YouTube personality, have used this opportunity to speak out about their own personal experiences where he has sexually abused and tormented them at meet-ups and other events. Many onlookers, myself included, also doubt the legitimacy of Pepper’s claim that the “prank” had been staged and scripted entirely, or that it had initially begun as a social experiment, and that his saying so is merely an attempt to save himself from further scrutiny by the media.

The sheer fact of the matter is simply that Sam Pepper’s egregious actions are a crime. Whether or not the video in question was scripted, which it is likely not, nothing can possibly excuse his past actions or the surfacing allegations of abuse. It is of the utmost importance to recognize that abuse is inexcusable; we cannot allow ourselves to let these women merely become a statistic or a tally on a sheet, as so many other sexual abuse scandals have.

Most of Sam Pepper’s audience is comprised of young, impressionable girls who are being led to believe that this kind of abuse is condonable. We live in a culture where the deification of our role models is ubiquitous, which can be extremely toxic, especially when we convince ourselves that our role models, who are as capable of making mistakes as the next person, are infallible. When these girls look to their subscription boxes and see that Sam Pepper, someone they’ve placed their trust in, has just posted a video where he handcuffs himself to distressed women and demands a kiss, they are going to associate that as romantic. They will perceive Sam Pepper as a man who is “taking charge” rather than flagrantly sexually harassing a young woman.

It’s undeniable that our society has a problem with glorifying sexual abuse and masking it with romantic intent. All one has to do is look at how we pander to young girls through romantic media. We show them that boys who kiss you without your consent are just “passionate,” and those won’t take no for an answer even after you’ve asserted your disinterest are “persistent” and “amiable.” But the truth is, when a person, regardless of gender, forces themselves on you sexually, to any degree, it is a crime, and it is unjustifiable.

I therefore urge everyone to take a stance against this heinous product of our culture’s obsession with abuse and misogyny, which is interwoven throughout the fabric of our society. If we’re to turn this grotesque trend around, it needs to be a collective effort on the part of society as a whole; because when these things happen, it’s not just a feminist tragedy – it is a human one, as well.