Credit: Yousef Erakat
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)– When Yousef Erakat, a 24-year-old Youtube megastar and college student in California, said he was about to release a video about rape he was criticized at first for exploiting a serious topic.
I’m sorry, I’ve held back on all the other so-called "experiments," but this latest one by @fouseyTUBE is a joke. Exploitation for views.
— Mohamed Al-Hendy (@Mo_Hendy) April 20, 2014
fouseyTUBE as a channel has 198 MILLION views. i don’t need to exploit any cause for the sake of views. that argument is so tired.
— Yousef Saleh Erakat (@fouseyTUBE) April 20, 2014
But since the April 20 release of his “Public Rape Experiment” video, which garnered over 600,000 views in less than 24 hours, reaction has turned more positive.
— Wiam (@UncolonisedMind) April 21, 2014
This is deep! Watch THE PUBLIC RAPE EXPERIMENT and be the change in society! SHARE https://t.co/eaukYAGpxT
— Ahmed Mahmood (@Mah_Moodin) April 21, 2014
The Public Rape Experiment, latest FouseyTUBE video. Gut wrenching because it hits close to home. 1/6 women in… http://t.co/IuYMOSlUa1
— Noor Tagouri (@NTagouri) April 21, 2014
The video tells the story of a 13-year-old who was lured into a public bathroom by a male cousin while playing hide-and-seek on her birthday. She was raped and cried for help but no one helped her.
The video juggles an actor giving this testimony with scenes of a men’s bathroom, where young men–not actors–come and go and look in on a stall from which the viewer hears sounds of woman in distress, crying for help.
Only at the end does the viewer find what the men encounter in the stall: speakers and a mirror, with the words “this is what a rapist could look like” written in blood-red paint on the wall above.
There’s an element of confusion in the video.
At first the men who come and go from the stalls appear–by the way the video is shot–to be encountering a rape in progress and then leaving, like the men in the victim’s real story.
In this video, however, it’s probably the other way around. The men shown going into the stall may have been coming to the rescue. “In no way shape or form did I say all men are rapists or say the men who barged in to help were rapists,” says Erakat.
Pressing Men to Intervene
Safety advocates have been trying to educate men about the need to take action when they witness a rape in progress, particularly in the aftermath of the notorious sex assaults in Steubenville, Ohio, that were witnessed by several friends.
A January White House report found that the problem of campus rape needed to be fought by “[changing] a culture of passivity and tolerance in this country, which too often allows this type of violence to persist.” According to the White House’s website, 1-in-5 women have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes. Ninety-seven percent of rapists never spend a single day in jail, according to an analysis by the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).
Erakat’s video adds to the messaging against passive bystanders by showing men looking into the stall–where the viewer thinks a rape is being acted out–and then going away.
But by the end, when it is revealed the men going into the stall are facing a mirror, the video twists in another direction and asks every man to consider himself a potential rapist. It concludes with the simple message that “only yes means yes.” The video ends with this statistic of “84 percent of the women who are raped are known by their assailants,” and warns that anyone–a friend, teacher or family member–is capable of rape.
“Everyone around me advised me to not do this video,” Erakat writes in the description of the “Public Rape Experiment.” “Not because they didn’t believe in my vision but because of how taboo society has made the topic of “rape” and “sexual assault.”
Erakat, who plays the part of the rapist, said the video began in 2013 with a request from a fan who shared this story with him and asked him to make a video to raise awareness on the issue. “I made her a promise and said of course.”
This contribution to the male-driven conversation about sex violence represents another use of video by this Palestinian-American entertainer to reflect social realities through “experiments” that mixes actors with real people on the street.
Erakat first gained widespread notice online a couple of years ago by posting comic sketches and pranks on Youtube. Now his channel, which first focused on the Arab-American identity, has nearly 2.3 million followers and is increasingly tackling serious subjects by acting out situations in public and monitoring the reactions of real people–non-actors–who are passing by.
In the “Terrorist Hijabi Experiment” he verbally abuses a Muslim woman who is wearing hijab, and the video shows very few people on the college campus coming to her aid. While fighting the ignorance towards “hijabophobia,” the video is also meant to point out the importance of intervening, Erakat says on Youtube.
In March, Erakat released “The Homeless Child Experiment” in which a homeless child asks for spare change in Santa Monica, Calif., and winds up with only about $2 after several hours and hundreds of people walking past.
Hajer Naili is a New York-based reporter for Women’s eNews. She has worked for several radio stations and publications in France and North Africa and specializes in Middle East and North Africa women in Islam.
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