Sexual Assault is No Prank: The Sam Pepper Story

by Rachel Long
opinions assistant editor

It’s late. You should be studying for a test you have at 8 a.m. tomorrow. So what are you actually doing? If you’re like me, you are getting lost in an endless maze of YouTube videos and amateur acoustic covers of rap songs. YouTube has long been a safe haven for vloggers and aspiring musicians to display their work in the hopes of striking it big and becoming an Internet sensation. One YouTube star, Sam Pepper, has recently achieved just such a fame across the World Wide Web—all it took was some hard work and a little sexual assault.

Sam Pepper’s most recent contribution to the Internet is a video trilogy, the first part of which is titled “Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank.” The video consists of Pepper roaming the streets of Los Angeles while wearing a hoodie that makes it look like both of his hands are tucked away in his pockets. While he is asking the women for directions, his hand is actually hidden in the back of his sweatshirt waiting to squeeze the derrieres of his unsuspecting victim. Don’t we all just dream of the day a guy will ask us that special question—“Do you know the way to the Apple store?”—and cop a feel when we’re not looking?

If your answer to that last question is “no,” then you can join the ranks of celebrities, YouTube officials, Pepper’s former friends, and vloggers all over the web who feel the same way. One thing that was clear in this video was the discomfort of the women in it. They nervously looked around when they were grabbed, and when they found out it was Pepper pinching them, they all laughed apprehensively and backed away from him. Pepper made things more uncomfortable by laughing the prank off and hugging the women.

To equal the playing field, Pepper got a female friend to pull the same prank on men—this way, we can all be skeeved out by Sam Pepper together! The reactions in Part Two of “Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank” were much the same as the first part, showing the men walking away quickly and looking uncomfortable after the encounter.

Pepper’s Part Three video features what amounts to a PSA on how this trilogy was created as a ‘social experiment’ to bring awareness to sexual assault and domestic violence. He also claims that the videos were completely staged—that he used actors who were fully aware of what was going on in both videos. All of these claims are unproven, but they do raise a few questions about Pepper’s view of appropriate sexual behavior. It seems that he believes the key to bringing awareness to assault is through perpetrating it. Many have spoken out against Pepper’s methods, and it seems that very few people (myself included) actually believe that the purpose of these pranks was to raise awareness of sexual assault.

The claim that this epic trilogy’s purpose was positive in nature is also undermined by numerous other videos he has posted in the past that, though unrelated to this video set, display the same disregard for personal space. His videos “How To Steal Girlfriends,” “Lasso Prank,” “Kissing Strangers,” and many, many more (including one that shows him handcuffing himself to women and refusing to let them go until they kiss him) all feature Pepper assaulting women and touching or grabbing them without their consent.

The backlash from these videos has been harsh. The hashtag #ReportSamPepper has blown up on Twitter, all three of the “Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank” videos have been removed from YouTube, Pepper has been dropped by his YouTube network, and he has been banned from YouTube fan conferences. Many view the videos as making light of sexual assault, instead of battling it as they are supposedly intended. When combined with the accusations of rape and sexual assault unrelated to these videos that Pepper is already facing, it seems his YouTube career may finally be over. However, he will always hold a special place in my heart, right next to Robin Thicke and the NFL’s policy on domestic abuse.