Sexual Assault in the YouTube Community
TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses instances of sexual assault.
Mike Lombardo, Luke Conrad, Tom Milsom, Ed Blann, Alex Day, Alex Carpenter, Jason Sansome, Sam Pepper. At one point, these men were extremely popular content creators on YouTube. They had hundreds of thousands, even millions of subscribers—mostly women in the 13 to 17 age bracket. Another thing that these men all have in common? They have all been accused of sexual assault, from harassment to rape.
All of these cases are extremely important to bring to light, but the person that I am going to focus on is Alex Day. After nearly seven months of absence from YouTube after allegations against him were brought to the level of scandal, Alex Day posted a 30-minute long video that pretty much boils down to him defending himself, disguised as pretending not to care about defending himself. A lot of people have a lot of problems with this, including (you guessed it) me.
But let me back up and give you the low-down on the situation, in case you haven’t been following along: Alex Day has been making videos on YouTube since 2007. Since then he has amassed over a million subscribers, a massive fanbase that has allowed him to make a living off of the monetization of his videos as well as the sale of merchandise and music. The majority of these fans are, as I previously mentioned, young teenage girls. In March 2014, after a young woman came forward about the abusive relationship that she had with another YouTuber when she was 16, the support that she received enabled more women to come forward about Alex Day and their own relationships with him. In total, thirteen girls ranging from anonymous writers to well known YouTubers and ex-girlfriends of Alex Day began to open up about his inappropriate behavior toward underage fans, the gross extent of his emotional exploitation and manipulation and his clear neglect for consent. They went on to speak about the pressure they felt from him to engage in sexual acts that they did not want to, as well as his initiation of sexual acts with them while they were asleep.
After these accusations came out and he more-or-less admitted that some of them more-or-less might be true, he more-or-less disappeared from the Internet. That is, until last week in what he claimed was an entirely unscripted video— because he just so happened to be out for a walk with his video camera when the mood struck him since he’s just so honest and genuine. As I said, the video is 30 minutes and chock full of plenty of extremely problematic statements, but I’ll touch on just a few of them here.
His video begins with him attempting to address the accusations against him; however, he refers to the allegations as “some things that happened” rather than “some things that I did,” which seems like a denial strategy. All he really does is attempt to discredit two of the most minor offenses, but then say that he can’t go into the private details of any of the more serious accounts because not only does it make him “very uncomfortable” but also that “it shouldn’t be made public out of respect for them,” meaning the women that accused him, because “they’ve clearly had a shit six months too and I don’t want to add to it.”
To that I say, too little too late considering you and your lack of respect for them are the entire reason they went through such a painful time in the first place. But good try. Thank you for reminding everyone that you are morally superior because you refuse to ‘stoop to the level’ of your accusers.
Alex says that he had already dealt with his relationship problems before everything became public knowledge, and then goes on to demonstrate just how much he has learned from this whole experience. He says that he has gone from seeing a hot girl and thinking “Oh my god, there’s so many things I want to do to that person” to now thinking “Oh my god, there are so many things that person could probably offer me.” So rather than only thinking about women as sex objects for him to act on rather than with, now he’s progressed to thinking about women as being there to give things to him? I’m glad that it took him this long to make the distinction that women are there to serve men’s needs. Gold star.
He goes on state that he doesn’t want to accuse anyone of lying just to get attention, but he just doesn’t get why such innocent things got so blown out of proportion. He says that he just didn’t realize that anyone felt pressured because “in most cases it felt pretty reciprocal, man.” Rather than apologizing, he sticks to the claim that he did not know that he was coercing anyone into these things and wonders why no one told him that they felt that way, as if he has been betrayed. This speaks volumes about his selfishness, lack of self-awareness and lack of empathy. He repeatedly refers to the idea that “they felt pressured” and “they felt like they couldn’t say no” rather than the much more accurate “I pressured them” and “I made them feel like they couldn’t say no,” once again refusing to take the responsibility and thereby pretty much passing the blame along onto the victims.
He makes sure to clarify, “I’m not a rapist, I’m not a… sexual predator… I’ve never forced anyone to do anything if I understand they didn’t want to.” This paltry attempt to try and minimize what he has done is probably the most obvious indication that he has not learned from the situation. The consent mantra that we should all know by now is that it is not only the presence of a no that means you should stop, but also the lack of an enthusiastic yes. There should be no middle ground in these situations—at 25 years old, you should understand that it is your responsibility to clarify, communicate and gain that enthusiastic consent to be certain that your partner feels like they have the safe space to say no. This is especially true if you have more power in the relationship: In many of the accounts against Alex Day, women said that they did not feel like they could say no because they felt as though he would immediately cut them out of his life if they failed to meet his expectations.
One woman, who did not wish to identify herself, wrote, “Once, he complained to me ‘Can we skip the part where you say no for an hour before anything happens? It’s tiring.’” Manipulating a partner to make them feel guilty and unable to escape sexual advances is not consent.
“What do we do from here?” Alex asks. “Either we can keep complaining about this forever, or we can try and figure out what we can learn from it.” This is when people start defending Alex, saying that he should be accepted back into the YouTube community because he realizes that he messed up, he’s made this ‘genuine’ apology video, and now everyone should let him have his second chance. Because a statement like “I’m not trying to upset anybody by doing this [referring to making videos again] even though I inevitably will” really illustrates that he now understands that he just can’t force himself onto people unwillingly anymore. If he really wanted to show how compassionate and considerate he has pledged to be toward the young women that he mistreated, he wouldn’t be trying to shove himself back in their faces.
What’s scary to me is that many of his fans are still defending him, which means boys that are learning that it’s okay to do what he did, and girls that are learning that it’s bad to do what those girls did by coming forward.
It says something that many people who once considered themselves Alex’s close friends and even housemates have since ceased contact with him and spoken out about his actions. If these ex-friends that have known him for years aren’t buying it as a genuine apology, then I don’t know how any random fans could think that they know better and then try to defend his actions after watching a half hour video, other than the fact that they are falling for his charm.
Alex asserts that he’s just making this video to tell his honest side of the story and do his “bit for the world” and start fostering discussion, but then immediately afterward claims that he’s not going to be reading the comments on the video because he doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him. He adds that when there’s such an “angry torrent of abuse” you just have to start sticking up for yourself. If you’re confused by this paradoxical combination of statements, join the club. Apparently people can only participate in this discussion if they agree to all of his terms and conditions and don’t call him any mean names. He doesn’t seem to understand why everyone can’t just accept his sorry-you-felt-that-way-I-swear-I-didn’t-mean-to ‘apology’ and stop criticizing him, because, hey, the past is the past.
Nope, it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to emotionally manipulate your audience into feeling guilty for calling you out on your emotional manipulation, especially while also simultaneously playing the extremely defensive ‘I don’t care about it anyway’ card. Sure, Alex Day hasn’t been arrested or anything so there’s nothing stopping him from coming back to YouTube, but he can’t force people to listen to him. People continuing to watch his content and support him sets a dangerous precedent and encourages the idea that someone can feign ignorance about their actions and then continue along their merry way without any real consequences. For him to expect people to just sweep everything under the rug and welcome him back into the community with open arms is not only incredibly selfish and pathetic, but frankly a ridiculous sentiment. If someone is accused of sexual assault in their place of work, the rest of the office doesn’t throw them a welcome-back party.
Honestly, the best thing that could possibly come out of this is the fact that as more and more conversations about these incredibly toxic relationships surface, more and more brave people find the courage to come to term with the fact that they have been in similar emotionally abusive and unhealthy relationships.
If you are in an abusive relationship, or even if you just think you might be, there is help out there.
Call the CRC 845-437-7333 and ask for the CARES counselor on call, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE