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YouTube & Sexual Abuse

Posted on: October 3, 2014

For many youth workers YouTube will be a place you head to when you’re after a fun video clip for your session plan however for a growing number of young people YouTube is their main source of entertainment…in fact, if statistics are to be believed, more and more young people are watching YouTube instead of TV.

On YouTube you’ll find a growing number of professional vloggers (video bloggers), the majority of these are young adults who started off creating content when they were in their teens and over time have gained more and more subscribers and people watching their videos. YouTubers like Charlie McDonnell, Louise (Sprinkle of Glitter), Pointless BlogDanisnotonfire & AmazingPhil (to name a few) even make a living out of the ad-revenue earned via YouTube (alongside appearances at gatherings and conventions).

Some of them have even made it into mainstream media…pointless blog has a book out, Zoella has a beauty range and Dan & Phil have a Radio 1 show.

These young adults are fast become the role models that many of our young people look up to and idolise yet I suspect if they spoke about them at your group you would be clueless as to who these people are.

However it’s not all fun tag videos and cinnamon challenges.

Earlier this year allegations were made against Alex Day (who had 1 million subscribers at the time, a music career and a publishing deal), Hexachordal, Ed Plant (musician/vlogger) and a few others. These high-profile YouTube stars were accused of manipulating young (but over 16) fans to take part in sexual activities. Alex Day in particular admitted to the accusations, defended himself and other than 1 unlisted video has since disappeared from YouTube and social media (and his book deal was cancelled).

Likewise EdPlant also left the YouTube community although has since returned with a few songs and appears to be trying to rebuild his career. Hexachordal hasn’t returned.

Everything seemed to be quiet on the matter until about 2 weeks ago…

2 weeks ago Sam Pepper, another high profile YouTuber with over 2 million subscribers and a previous star of Big Brother in the UK made a video which appeared to show him going around a town pinching girls bums with his hand whilst pretending it was tucked in his pocket.

There was a massive backlash to this ‘prank’ video and the story even made it into several national newspapers.

A couple of days later he released a video that appeared to show a girl doing the same ‘prank’ to men.

Finally, after YouTube had removed his first 2 ‘prank’ videos he released a video about the ‘reveal’ explaining that it had all (supposedly) been a social experiment designed to raise awareness of abuse. This was met with scepticism and it was suggested that it was a clever way of him digging himself out of a hole…if it was genuine then it was incredibly badly executed.

Since then a couple of people have made videos about Sam Pepper accusing him of trying to take advantage and one even accusing him of rape. These are still accusations although a recent BBC News article says LA Police investigated him in July.

About the same time another video was made by a 20 year old accusing YouTuber Jason (VeeOneEye) of taking her to a hotel when she was 15, getting her drunk and having sex with her (he has since confirmed this) (This is of course statutory rape in the UK).

So What Does This Mean for Youth Workers?

Whilst none of these stories directly involve members of our groups these are things that many of our young people will be aware of and talking about amongst their peers.

It may be that they have wider questions about which of their YouTube idols they can trust. “How can someone who appears so fun or who was so lovely when I met them do this to someone?”

The YouTube community have also reacted to these stories of abuse.

Many popular YouTubers have made videos about consent and sexual abuse/manipulation meaning that many of your young people may be watching videos about these topics.

There is an opportunity for us to carry these discussions into our youth groups. We can help young people explore what consent is and the importance of consenting to any sexual activity.

It’s also a chance for us to explore authenticity and trust….we can explore how even our idols are humans and have flaws and how we can deal with our role models when they let us down.

Useful Links
The master post with a summary of recent YouTube abuse on.
Consent – A song/video by popular YouTubers ‘Jack & Dean’…could be an interesting way to start a discussion.
Channel 4 News Article on Sam Pepper and accusations of sexual abuse