Last weekend over 25,000 fans and creators of online video gathered in Anaheim, California for the seventh annual VidCon. I attended on behalf of Uplift, a nonprofit dedicating to combatting sexual violence in online communities through education and advocacy. Many people approaching Uplift’s exhibitor booth said they felt safe at VidCon, but there was an elephant in the room that day: our community has a long way to go to be safe for everyone.
Uplift was founded in 2014 in response to over 70 allegations raised against prominent YouTubers and Viners of sexual and emotional abuse. At the time, many in the community saw this as a wake up call. We realized radical change was necessary to make our communities as safe as we’d once believed they were.
Nearly two years later at VidCon, we encouraged attendees to sign our safer community pledge promising to listen to survivors and practice consent.
Our main initiative for the conference was to shed a light on the issues and uplift survivor stories. With this in mind, we launched Elephant At The Con, a survey about con safety and demographics. In the three day conference, we met and surveyed over 600 attendees asking the following questions:
- I feel safe at VidCon (Always/Sometimes/Usually/Rarely)
- I feel safe sharing my sexuality at VidCon (Always/Sometimes/Usually/Rarely)
- I feel safe sharing my gender identity at VidCon (Always/Sometimes/Usually/Rarely)
- Someone has verbally harassed me at VidCon (Yes/No)
- Someone has touched me without my consent at VidCon (Yes/No)
- Someone has sexually harassed or assaulted me at VidCon (Yes/No)
- Have you ever been made to feel uncomfortable at VidCon, or seen others in a difficult situation? Tell us about it.
- How do you identify your gender, sexuality & race?
In total, we collected 627 responses.
As you can see overall the data looks pretty good, but it represents 55 people who have been touched without their consent and 27 people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted.
Not everyone chose to share their demographic information, but of those that did here is the breakdown.
The demographics clearly skew towards straight white women, so how does safety factor into this?
I feel safe at VidCon
The charts below break down safety experiences by demographic. Cis men feel the most safe, followed closely by those who did not specify their gender, and then cis women. Sexuality was less clear cut by safety, though in general those identifying as Bi or Straight felt safer than others. Race was also less clear, though people identifying as Filipino/a, Middle Eastern, South Asian (a low percentage of those surveyed) did feel less safe as a group than those identifying as White or Latinx (a high percentage of those surveyed).
I feel safe sharing my sexuality or gender identity
As expected cis/straight people felt more comfortable sharing their identity than others. Overall there is a feeling of openness, but there is still work to be done.
Verbal Harassment by sexuality affected those identifying as Lesbian, Questioning, or Gay more than those identifying as Straight or Bisexual. By gender and race things were a bit more clear cut. Cis men experienced almost no verbal harassment, but among the agender and female populations this was more common. White and Latinx attendees surveyed were less likely than Pacific Islander, South Asian, or Black attendees to report experiencing verbal harassment.
Someone has touched me without my consent
Cis straight white male attendees were the least likely to report being touched without their consent. Asexual or agender or Black attendees were the most likely to report experiencing this.
Someone has sexually harassed or assaulted me at VidCon
We do not have enough data tied to demographics to analyze sexual harassment and assault at VidCon by gender, sexuality, and race. However, as highlighted above, 27 people reported experiencing sexual harassment or assault VidCon in our survey. We only spoke with and surveyed a small fraction of VidCon attendees and cannot be certain whether our numbers are representative of the entire con. But if these numbers were representative:
(27 attendees reported sexual harassments and assaults / 627 surveyed) x 25,000 attendees ~ 1076 attendees would have reported sexual harassments and assaults at VidCon, if surveyed.
In order to collect qualitative data as well as quantitative, we asked: Have you ever been made to feel uncomfortable at VidCon, or seen others in a difficult situation? Tell us about it.
While a majority of those surveyed did not choose to share a story, those that did offered critical insights about safety at VidCon.
I got asked out as part of a prank video a few years ago.
I was one of the people that was “picked up” for that “prank” video a few vidcons ago.
I’ve seen Sam Pepper shove a mic in a woman’s face for a “prank” and made her very uncomfortable. And I’ve seen other “pranksters” pick up girls without their consent.
One of the most discussed incidents referred to VidCon 2014 when Sam Pepper filmed a series of prank videos that made the subjects and viewers uncomfortable. As a result of this and some of his other questionable videos he was banned from future VidCons.
I was grabbed and picked up my first VidCon by a guy from behind. He was later banned from the convention permanently. I do feel safe but I’m still wary of my surroundings.
Another past incident where luckily VidCon staff was able to step in and make the community safer.
The remaining stories refer to this year’s VidCon to the best of our knowledge. In general, some people felt unsafe with certain con dynamics like crowded areas or concert venues, as a result sometimes people were pushed out of the way, but beyond this several attendees wrote about harassment they experienced or witnessed.
Some attendees harassed others about their outfits
Parents are usually the rudest people- I got yelled at that I needed to cover up my stomach multiple times. It should be more well-known that VidCon is open and that we can dress however we want.
Other people were promoting rape culture or taking advantage of young girls
I’ve seen older men checking out the younger female attendees.
One person was yelling in a hotel that rape should be legal, another person in industry track announced to their friend that VidCon was a great place to have sex with underage girls.
An older man asked two separate young girls to accompany him to a hotel.
Several attendees made others feel uncomfortable at the evening events
I felt that a guy behind me at a concert was getting too close
It was weird and I wanted to go away and I did, sort of, after I made the person bored and walk away
I noticed when the GregoryBrothers played the Bed Intruder song a lot of women at the concert stopped dancing.
I was at a VIP party dancing with some people and this guy came up behind me and was touching me inappropriately and then at one point tried to kiss me. He was a famous YouTuber. His friends saw and didn’t care. Only one person stepped in to tell him to fuck off.
Other aspects of the VidCon safety dynamic are harder to quantify, but still very important.
There are still people at VidCon who are friends with or support my abuser which is a big strain on my emotional well being, just seeing them.
Though VidCon has banned the youtube and vine stars involved in sexual and emotional abuse scandals, not everyone in our community has taken the step to stop supporting them.
I watch the younger generation with a deep sigh at VidCon knowing and witnessing very unhealthy behaviors surrounding fans and creators when the line can get blurred on appropriate and safe affection, and there is a lack of time or education for promoting safe and healthy communication.
As often the adults of the situation, creators are absolutely responsible for contributing to a healthy dynamic between themselves and their fans. However, sometimes fans can be part of the problem. VidCon staff certainly did a better job controlling the mobs this year than in previous years, but there were still some incidents.
At a panel, the host kept feeling up [Famous YouTuber].
Vidcon stars get harassed by fans all the time. It’s sad.
I worry about popular creators and their safety with fans chasing them
While the data combined with our in-person interactions at the booth suggests that a majority of attendees had a safe and happy VidCon, we owe it to survivors and to our communities to speak out against problematic con culture. If any of this data has surprised you, speak up and share your perspective online or with someone you trust. Our goal with this project was to raise awareness and uplift survivor stories in these communities, but this is only the beginning. We hope you can join us in taking the conversation forward.
While we do not have data on how many of these incidents were reported to VidCon staff, we can only imagine that many were not and of course many more were not reported to anyone. While it would be great if everyone felt comfortable calling a hotline or approaching a staff member, the reality is not everyone will. There is certainly work to be done to make reporting more painless.
In future years Uplift hopes to work with conventions organizers on bystander intervention training, codes of conducts, responses to incident reports, and many other aspects of safe cons.