There's a (big) difference between a prank and assault, but this YouTube star seems to have confused the two.
Sam Pepper, a British YouTube celebrity with a following of over 2 million, posted a video on Sept. 20 where he walks around grabbing unsuspecting women's butts and films their reactions. The public outcry for the clip to be taken down was so loud that YouTube removed the video this morning.
The video features Pepper walking up to five different women, starting a conversation and then pinching their butts when they look away. It's painful to watch as these women awkwardly laugh off Pepper's "prank" and walk away, violated and confused. As one YouTube commenter wrote, "Literally the first girl said 'I don't like that.' Line crossed."
The video has received so much negative feedback that people have been reporting the clip to YouTube asking for it to be taken down since it was posted this past Saturday. The hashtag #ReportSamPepper, created by 19-year-old Tumblr user Kara, has been populating Twitter the past few days -- and, thankfully, YouTube listened.
#reportsampepper because calling it a "prank" does not make it ok to go around and sexually harass women
— gomezz (@flavorgomez) September 22, 2014
With a Pepper comes assault. #ReportSamPepper
— mamrie hart (@mametown) September 21, 2014
#reportsampepper because no woman should ever have to be touched without consent
— sarah (@sarahmicheled) September 22, 2014
#reportsampepper just bc you label it as a "prank" doesn't excuse the fact that you're sexually harassing women.
— ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ (@msftxbieber) September 22, 2014
Reminder: Everything online is edited! Just because someone is seen laughing doesn't mean they aren't screaming internally! #reportsampepper
— Liam Dryden (@LiamDrydenEtc) September 21, 2014
#reportsampepper bc having a million subscribers on YouTube does not give you a free pass to grope girls and call it a "prank"
— elita // sept 25th (@woahmerrygold) September 21, 2014
Sexual harassment is not a joke, and women's bodies are not there for your amusement and video views. #reportsampepper
— Daisy (@_daisyporter) September 21, 2014
#ReportSamPepper because he thinks its okay to objectify women
— Brad(◡﹏◡✿) (@breastblackery) September 21, 2014
Many of Pepper's fellow YouTube stars have denounced his behavior, including Laci Green, Tyler Oakley, Hannah Hart, Hank Green and Charlie McDonnell. Hank Green, one of the founders of the national conference for online video creators called VidCon, also took to Twitter to voice his outrage:
For people asking, it's safe to assume that people who sexually assault women in "prank" videos will not be welcome at future VidCons.
— Hank Green (@hankgreen) September 21, 2014
Sex positive vlogger Laci Green weighed in on the controversy, writing an open letter to Pepper on Sept. 21 on Tumblr:
We are deeply disturbed by this trend and would like to ask you, from one creator to another, to please stop. Please stop violating women and making them uncomfortable on the street for views. Please stop physically restraining them and pressuring them to be sexual when they are uncomfortable. Please show some respect for women’s right to their own bodies. While it may seem like harmless fun, a simple prank, or a “social experiment”, these videos encourage millions of young men and women to see this violation as a normal way to interact with women. One in six young women (real life ones, just like the ones in your video) are sexually assaulted, and sadly, videos like these will only further increase those numbers.
And Tyler Oakley, an LGBTQ advocate with over 5 million YouTube followers, took to Twitter as well, stating:
Saddened by @sampepper's new video. Sexually harassing women is vile to begin with, but normalizing it by calling it a prank? So harmful.
— Tyler Oakley (@tyleroakley) September 21, 2014
The Huffington Post reached out to Sam Pepper and YouTube for comment but did not receive a response from either at the time of publication.
The bottom line? Sexism and assault disguised as humor is still sexism and assault.
UPDATE: 9/23/2014 12:35 p.m. -- Pepper posted two follow-up videos, one to his Facebook account and the other to YouTube, claiming his original "Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank" video was staged and scripted. He also claims the prank and subsequent videos are a social experiment to promote awareness of male victims of domestic abuse.
In the second video, Pepper introduces a young woman who pranks men by grabbing their butts in the same fashion Pepper did in his original video.
Pepper's third video claims that the entire prank was actually a social experiment.
Many of his fans have expressed skepticism that Pepper initially planned to have a "big reveal" outing the "prank" as a social experiment with a larger message, with one Facebook follower writing: "Could have said that at the end of the [original] video. Now it just looks like you're covering your ass."
Fellow vlogger Laci Green tweeted:
I have a hard time believing, that had there not been such incredible backlash, that a "big reveal" would have been made at all. @SamPepper
— Laci Green (@gogreen18) September 23, 2014
(PS: @SamPepper has made MANY videos violating women over the years, so this video isn't the only point of concern. Kthxluvyabye.)
— Laci Green (@gogreen18) September 23, 2014