During September serious allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and rape were made against prominent YouTubers.
Most of these were made by YouTube fans, some by other content creators. Some were made by people who were under the age of consent at the time of the alleged incident.
This is not the first time this has happened within the YouTube community. Since January 2012, the behaviour and actions of 24 YouTubers have been called into question. Only one – Mike Lombardo – has been convicted.
The YouTube community has responded to the latest allegations with an expression of outrage towards the abusers. Creators have expressed their support for those who have come forward, and aimed to raise awareness and understanding through their social media sites.
In her video Abuse on YouTube, Lex Croucher explains that nobody has the right to dictate how a victim reacts to what has happened to them. She says: “Many people do not feel comfortable going to the police to formally report assault or rape… Coming forward publicly to say you’ve been abused by someone who has hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of devoted subscribers is an incredibly difficult and scary thing to do.”
“we will not choose the hurt feelings or lost earnings of an alleged abuser over the lives of their victims”
She emphasises that while the YouTube community is not a judge or jury, collectively it has a responsibility to protect the young people who watch YouTube videos. “Our responsibility is to support those who come forward with allegations and to make it clear that this is a space where people can feel that they are safe and that they can speak up. We will support them. That we will not choose the hurt feelings or lost earnings of an alleged abuser over the lives of their victims.”
Urging people to not just blindly accept the apologies of those accused, Lex highlights how she believes someone truly sorry would respond. “They would remove themselves from the community and the position of power that facilitated their behaviour. They would know that they did not deserve a place in it anymore, and that by trying to stay a part of it they would make the community unsafe for people who have been victims of their behaviour in the past.”
Lex affirms that it is never the victims’ fault if they are abused, and reminds everyone of the law. “It doesn’t matter if they have a history, it doesn’t matter if they willingly went back to their house. That is not an excuse for assaulting or raping somebody. Legally if somebody coerces somebody else into sex, it is rape. If somebody gets somebody else drunk in order to have sex with them, that is rape. If somebody has sex with a minor, that is statutory rape.”
“This is an ongoing problem and it occurs in society where people have power”
Rebecca Brown, in Sexual Abuse on YouTube, says supporting the accused sends the wrong message to others.
She says: “Sometimes when an abuser is outed in public by their victims, due to the abuser’s popularity their wrongdoings can be hushed and shuffled under the carpet… It sends a message to the abusers or the wrongdoers that what they’re doing is OK, that their behaviour is OK.
“Let me tell you that rape, assault and any form of abuse is most certainly not OK.
“We need to send out the message that regardless of who we are, how famous we are or who we become, we have a responsibility to respect the people around us and to look after the people who may be in our care or may look up to us,” she continues. “Using that in the context of YouTube, you have a responsibility to your fans and your audience. They look up to you.”
She also highlights that sexual abuse isn’t just an issue which affects the YouTube community. “This is an ongoing problem and it occurs in society where people have power, and abuse that power, and use their authority to influence or take advantage of others,” she says.
“the galvanisation we’ve seen in our community is admirable, but we can’t just stop at our gates”
Talking further about the wider implication of sexual abuse, Jazza John expresses frustration regarding the law and statistics surrounding this issue in This Is Bigger Than Us | Sexual Abuse. “One in 20 is a victim of rape or sexual assault. Do you know how many assault cases actually end up being brought into a court of law and the defendant found guilty? It’s 7%,” he says.
“The average sexual assault case lasts two years and then after those two years only 7% of them find the assaulter guilty. When you have those kind of statistics what’s the fucking point?” he continues.
Jazza emphasises how the community needs to take its zero-tolerance message further. “I think our ability to cut these cancers out of our community is great. But the thing is, the world is bigger than YouTube. These men are still going to be going out there and using these tactics on people in our community with people in the real world. And I can’t stand for that,” he says. “I think the galvanisation we’ve seen in our community is admirable, but we can’t just stop at our gates.”
“you deserve to have everything that you’ve built torn down around you”
Chelsea Fisher, in Sexual Abuse, Community, YouTube, addresses the difficult “Catch 22” many content creators may have found themselves in when learning of other creators’ inappropriate sexual conduct. “We can’t out abusers without the evidence presented by the victims or in doing so we would put even more pressure on the victims to come forward,” she says.
“What we can do is speak loudly, and purposefully when these cases come to light,” she says. “Support the victims and create an environment where people know they won’t be vilified for coming forward about what’s happened to them. We need to tear down these walls of intimidation that creators have and really shake the pedestals because we’re not gonna stand by you if you do these despicable acts.”
Standing firm, Chelsea believes that no YouTuber deserves the platforms they have if they have been called out as an abuser. “I don’t think someone who has abused fans should be allowed back in a position of influence over said fans again,” she states. “We are so privileged to have these platforms of various lines and to take them for granted is one thing, but to use them for insidious acts is deplorable and you deserve to have everything that you’ve built torn down around you.”
“These content creators are still lying to you, they’re treating you as if you’re stupid”
Echoing Chelsea, Niki and Sammy Albon encourage their audience and others to not be sympathetic towards the accused in Sexual Abuse on YouTube. “You should be feeling sorry for the victim and you should be disappointed in the YouTuber,” says Niki.
“The most important thing you must understand is that there is an ulterior motive to these ‘apology’ and ‘reveal’ videos. These content creators are still lying to you, they’re treating you as if you’re stupid.”
“You may feel as though you have a relationship with these content creators, but you don’t know them, you don’t know their life story and you don’t know what they’re up to,” says Sammy. “It’s important to remember that these aren’t mistakes, they are crimes.”
“having a second chance at becoming a better person is completely different from deserving your large audience…”
Discussing the apology videos and statements of many of the accused, Nathan Z calls in to question their sincerity in YouTubers and Sexual Abuse. “2014 has been the year of terrible YouTube apologies and every single one… has tried to make excuses,” he says.
“If you’re admitting to doing something this serious don’t try partially justifying your actions at all. If you’re going to apologise, then apologise. Say that what you did is completely wrong, don’t try to make anyone feel sorry for you,” he continues.
He believes that regardless of whether or not the abusers have changed their behaviour, they shouldn’t have a place in the YouTube community. “I’m all for you bettering yourself and becoming a better person, but not here,” he says. “If you’re an abuser, having a second chance at becoming a better person is completely different from deserving your large audience of people you have power over.”
Nathan also addresses those who discredit statements from victims explaining why so many of them come out at once. “Victims of sexual abuse are more likely to come forward when they see other victims of the same person doing so. They feel safer that way,” he says. “If someone is brave enough to come out as being sexually assaulted, either believe and support them or shut up.”
“Google is a huge corporate company, and right now their silence is deafening”
Gary C, in YouTube & Sexual Abuse, also addresses victim blaming. “Some of the fans of these alleged abusers are disgustingly calling victims liars, ridiculing them and making their lives more stressful,” he says.
However, through recounting his own response and involvement with one of the accused he shows an understanding of why people may feel inclined to defend prominent YouTubers who have been called out.
“I swept in with my golden wings and tried to help,” reveals Gary. “Normally this would be a great quality to have. But in this case, my desperate need to be needed and save people had selfishly meant that I ignored the real victims.
“When you subscribe to a YouTuber you are essentially saying ‘I like this person, I like their content and I want to see more.’ When that person turns out to be a sexual predator it devastates you because it’s a betrayal,” he continues.
Gary calls for more action to be made against the accused. “They need to be stripped of their channels and leave YouTube because they’re a risk,” he says. “YouTube was their profession. In any other job they would be suspended or dismissed if allegations like this came forward.
“Google is a huge corporate company, and right now their silence is deafening,” he adds.
In Thoughts, Tim Hautekiet says there is too much of a focus on the age of consent. “I’m not gunna look at someone who had sex with a 15-year-old fan and go ‘you monster’, and then look at someone who had sex with a 16-year-old fan and go ‘that’s totally fine’. No, both aren’t cool,” he says.
“Even if it’s consensual, if you’re abusing the power that you have as a creator over a fan, I think there’s something morally off about that,” he continues.
“we are all responsible and in the position where we have to do what we can to try and improve”
Bringing up themes that have been discussed widely in the YouTube Culture Debate, Tim urges everyone to not ignore accusations. “I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with idolising YouTubers, but if information comes to light that makes you question that view, or that seems to have some kind of substantial proof please don’t disregard it because you’re a fan of that person,” he says.
Tim encourages people to educate themselves about these topics and to think before they add their voices to the discussion – be it by tweeting, posting blogs or making YouTube videos.
“If you’ve liked someone’s content for a while and you feel like you know them, your gut reaction is to try and defend that person,” he says. “But I firmly believe that if you educate yourself on these topics that you can rise above that gut reaction.
“Before you post a thought to the internet, think it through,” he continues. “You’re putting those views out there and they could potentially be damaging or they could be coming from a place of ignorance and that’s not necessarily your fault. The fact that you didn’t know these things – we’re all human, we’re all learning all the time – but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want your ignorance broadcasted to the world.”
“When you have a rotting limb on your body you cut it off…”
Acknowledging that it’s not a problem that affects one gender, Tim also notes the importance for male members of his audience to take this issue seriously. “Speak up about it when it happens because we are all responsible and in the position where we have to do what we can to try and improve,” he says.
In March, when the majority of the allegations were made, Rhiannon McGavin uploaded YouTube Abuse Recovery in which she suggests a four-step plan to recovery: amputate, vaccinate, elevate and exfoliate.
“Step 1: Amputate”, she explains, is cutting off accused YouTubers entirely from the community, banning them from gatherings and conventions and not collaborating with them. “When you have a rotting limb on your body you cut it off,” she explains.
“You think that they’ll change or just don’t want the accounts of numerous women to get inbetween you and their video game marathons, then that’s your deal. Keep it away from everyone else,” she continues. “Don’t tweet about it. Don’t take a selfie. Because whether you like it or not, people – usually teenagers – are looking up to you. You’re a role model. Would a role model be playing Mario Kart with a known sex offender?”
“Be a role model for these teenage girls, show them what real proper healthy adults are like”
“Step 2: Vaccinate” is achieved through talking about it widely, across the community and on all social media platforms, letting everyone know that this behaviour and these people will not be tolerated. “Stand with the victims. Know that your audience is mostly impressionable teenagers, looking to you for guidance right now,” she says.
Addressing how best to respond to fans that have an “unwavering affection for these abusive men” is simple, she explains: “Be a role model for these teenage girls, show them what real proper healthy adults are like. Being a role model really isn’t that hard. You don’t do meth on camera and you don’t talk to paedophiles.”
“… there’s just as much racism, sexism and sex abuse as there is in mainstream media”
“Step 3: Elevate” involves elevating the voices of victims of sexual abuse and women in general to allow the problems they face to be heard and discussed widely.
On this subject Rhiannon takes issue in particular with VidCon. She says that since VidCon’s creation in 2009 the Women on YouTube panel has been downgraded to smaller rooms until it wasn’t even on the schedule in 2013. That year’s Women on YouTube panel was organised by content creators themselves and held outside the Anaheim Convention Centre on the grass. The panel was reinstated at VidCon 2014.
“What does it say when the majority of VidCon attendees are young women but there isn’t a specific place for them to discuss their issues as women content creators and viewers?” asks Rhiannon.
“What does it say when people at the forefront of the community congratulate themselves on creating such a safe, friendly environment that’s so much more progressive than mainstream media but there’s just as much racism, sexism and sex abuse as there is in mainstream media?” she continues.
“Be an active participant in your community”
Rhiannon uses exfoliation as a metaphor for Step 4, which is the “daily, sometimes twice daily routine where you scrub dead flesh from your skin so that the smooth healthy flesh can pass through”.
“Step 4: Exfoliate” means everyone being an active participant in safeguarding the community. “If you see someone being creepy call them out on it. Stop them from being creepy,” she says. “If you don’t have the courage or the right words to call that person out then just invite whoever they were creeping on to get a milkshake or a slushie so that they have an excuse to get away. Be an active participant in your community.”
Along with these four steps, Rhiannon expresses her frustration and anger with the community, urging everyone to step up. “Make it known that this is not how you treat your fans, your peers. This is not how you treat women, this is not how you treat girls, this is not how you treat humans.”
For more check out The Sex Abuse Scandal That Shook The Community, After the Sex Abuse Scandal and our interview with Lindsay Atkin, who shared her insights from a parent’s point of view. You may also find The YouTube Culture Debate interesting.