Just hours after Sam Pepper issued his non-apology for the sexual harassment prank videos that have ignited a firestorm of criticism, it looks like there’s more trouble on the horizon for the new media miscreant. In news that should surprise no one who is familiar with his content or career, several female creators have come forward to accuse Pepper of sexual harassment and assault in his personal life. These accusations provide a powerful counterargument for those willing to believe Pepper’s hastily constructed justification that the original videos were “a social experiment” designed to draw attention to the disparity of how sexual aggression toward men and women is perceived.
Several creators including Hannah Witton and Cherry Wallis have taken to Twitter to directly accuse Pepper of touching or otherwise harassing them at YouTube gatherings; but the most damning accusation comes from YouTuber Dottie Martin, better known as ThisBeDottie, who posted a video “A Cautionary Tale” in which she details her experiences being groped, pressured, and later shamed by Sam Pepper after meeting him at a fan gathering.
Beyond its immediate implications for Sam Pepper, his career, and what is increasingly looking like his history of sexual abuse and harassment, the video raises the specter of previous abuse scandals within the YouTube community. It was only last spring that YouTuber Tom Milsom was accused of maintaining an exploitative and abuse relationship with an underage fan. The scandal ultimately ended Milsom’s online career and that of his frequent collaborator, vlogger Alex Day, who became the target of similar accusations.
Milsom, Pepper, and Day have all been accused of exploiting their online celebrity status to bully, pressure, and in some cases assault both fellow creators and fans. Neither Milsom nor Day have ever adequately responded to the charges against them, nor have they faced criminal or civil action. As we watch Sam Pepper attempt to weasel and explain his way out of his current predicament we should remember that giving him a pass will only make the next incident more possible.
As YouTube creators continue to achieve greater heights of acclaim we must continue to be vigilant. The YouTube community is largely young, and many fans are inexperienced and subject to manipulation by creators who have likewise not been vetted by any institution more formal than a subscription box. As a community we should have zero tolerance for behavior that glamorizes or encourages abuse. Collective Digital Studios, the multi-channel network to which Sam belongs, should consider dropping him rather than sitting on the sidelines waiting to see if he can ride out the storm as they appear to be doing. Fans on social media have called on the MCN to make a statement but so far there has been only silence. A request for comment from our reporters went unreturned. Creators that engage in this sort of behavior can and should be blackballed regardless of what elaborate excuse or social experiment they devise to justify their actions.