Jultud

Society

An Introduction to YouTube's Newest and Most Dangerous Trend, Viagra Dosing

Over the course of the past year, a disturbing trend has found a home on the cultural refuse receptacle know as YouTube. Pranks centered around men seemingly spiking the drinks of unsuspecting women, then filming the chaos that ensues as they make sexual advances toward them afterwards, have generated millions of views on the popular platform.

Under the guise of entertainment, these “Viagra pranks” unfold during purported blind dates, or even as YouTube stars prey on their credulous girlfriends. In one video in particular, after a man named Derek spikes a drink with “some of the strongest” pills he could find, his girlfriend lashes out in horror upon uncovering his “joke.”

“Why would you do that, Derek?” she asks. “That’s not cool. I feel really weird right now. That’s not funny. You can’t put something in my drink like that. This does not feel natural to me at all. Derek, you can’t record someone like that. This is embarrassing.”

But it’s more than merely embarrassing, it’s dangerous. YouTube has become complicit in normalizing the same predatory behavior that destroys thousands of lives every year. In fact, per the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, every 98 seconds a sexual assault occurs in America, with one in five women on college campuses reporting that they’ve been victimized. And while an inquiry from Polygon led YouTube to reaffirm its “clear policies prohibiting harmful or dangerous content,” these popular “female Viagra” videos (some of which boast as many as 3.6 million views) are still readily available on the platform. It also points to the under-observed fact that drink-spiking is far more common than most realize.

In the Psychology of Violence, a journal published by the American Psychological Association, a team led by University of South Carolina professor Suzanne C. Swan examined survey data from more than 6,000 students at three universities. Their research determined that 462 students (7.8 percent) reported a total of 539 incidents in which they had been drugged, while 83 (1.4 percent) confessed to either drugging someone themselves or knowing someone who had done so.

“These data indicate that drugging is more than simply an urban legend,” Swan said. But while men comprised an alarming 21 percent of the victims, women were not only more likely to report sexual assault but were far more likely to be targeted for spiked drinks. “Even if a person is drugging someone else simply ‘for fun’ with no intent of taking advantage of the drugged person, the drugger is still putting a drug in someone else’s body without their consent—and this is coercive and controlling behavior.”
While activists such as Tarana Burke work tirelessly to assist survivors of sexual violence and help them uncover pathways to healing, YouTube has interpolated a criminal act into its business model.
Alcohol.org conducted a similar investigation, and of the 900 people they polled, 50 percent of women had their food or drink spiked by a stranger, while 32 percent of men were targeted by an unknown assailant. Also of note, 52 percent of men and a jaw-dropping 62 percent of women declined to report their assault to the authorities. This is presumably due to embarrassment, fear of retaliation, regret, anguish, or a lack of faith in the criminal justice system. “It took me weeks to tell anyone what happened,” an anonymous woman told Verily. “Months to tell my family. And a year passed before I finally sought counseling to deal with the depression I had fallen into.”

But for those brave enough to come forward, trauma related to their assault presents its own set of challenges. The neurological effects of a traumatic experience can impede executive brain functioning and the ability to recall memories. This explains why a victim’s behavior can be aloof or confounding to prosecutors, healthcare providers or police. “Victims may not be immediately able to accurately recall all of the details of the trauma, and their demeanor may be confusing because they may show little emotion,” says Michigan State University psychology professor Dr. Rebecca Campbell.

Normalizing sexual violence through these Viagra prank videos further endangers women and actively contributes to rape culture. While the arrival of the #MeToo era has allowed discussions surrounding sexual assault to evolve from an unspoken taboo to long overdue discourse, the gendered language and patriarchal framing of sexual assault proves there’s still plenty of work to be done.

In his viral 2013 TED talk, “Violence Against Women—It's A Men's Issue,” educator Jackson Katz points out how passive voice is often utilized to absolve men of culpability. "We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women,” he says. “So you can see how the use of the passive voice has a political effect. [It] shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto women. Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. […] It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at the term, nobody is doing it.”

This is what makes YouTube’s contributions to rape culture so upsetting. While activists such as Tarana Burke work tirelessly to assist survivors of sexual violence and help them uncover pathways to healing, YouTube has interpolated a criminal act into its business model. Bill Cosby now faces three to 10 years in prison for exhibiting the same behavior that YouTube has chosen to monetize instead of admonish. It’s an act so egregious that even its own users have called it out.

“I don’t know why people like those videos. They’re not funny, they’re weird. They put the wrong idea in people’s heads,” YouTuber Kurtis Conner told his subscribers. “Putting a whoopee cushion on the couch—that’s one thing. But crushing up drugs and putting them in a beverage? That’s fucking criminal. It kind of just trivializes drugging women.”

Could these pranks be staged? Of course. But without a disclaimer acknowledging such, the underlying message puts countless women in jeopardy. And in a society in which 320,000 incidents of rape and sexual assault were reported in 2016, YouTube’s refusal to remove this problematic content from its platform is indefensible.