David Dobrik’s Sexual Assault Scandal: Addressing the Power-Dynamic
Written by: Chloe
Edited by: Megh
Visuals by: Sarah
“It was very much an environment where it felt like saying ‘no’ was not OK,” college student Hannah told Insider, referring to her sexual assault experience with Youtuber David Dobrik and his friendship group of other influencers known as “The Vlog Squad”. “It felt like from the moment we came there was an expectation that [The Vlog Squad] was doing us a favor and we had to give them content. They were verbally, like, ‘Why aren’t you guys being fun? Do something sort of sexy.’” During a time where “cancel culture” has prevailed and celebrities are seemingly being cancelled left and right, this news is the last thing anyone expected to hear about long-time unproblematic internet sensation David Dobrik.
Dobrik is a 24-year-old Youtuber who has dominated the platform since the creation of his Youtube channel The Vlog Squad in 2015. His “slice-of-life” vlogs consisting of unscripted, organic stunts and shenanigans with a rotating cast of friends, proved to be extremely popular amongst teenagers, amassing the channel over 18-million subscribers on the platform. Dobrik has undeniably become the most popular vlogger of this generation, often regarded as “Gen Z’s Jimmy Fallon”.
However, a recent controversy came to light earlier this month when a University of Oklahoma student accused Vlog Squad member Dom Zeglaitis of sexual assault, subsequently revealing that Dobrik was an accessory in his plan. In 2018, Hannah, along with a group of friends got into contact with Zeglaitis via Instagram when they replied to his Instagram story about a “fivesome”. Not necessarily looking to participate in such an act, they still capitalized on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Dobrik and his friends as adoring fans of the channel.
Hannah immediately “felt uncomfortable” upon her arrival. Although she and her friends had made their sexual intentions clear, she described being compelled to play a character for the sake of The Vlog Squad’s content and to please long-time idol Dobrik. The night quickly took a turn for the worse when Dobrik and his friends decided to “loosen up” then-underage girls by buying them alcohol. What followed was an all-too-familiar scene: Zeglaitis successfully took Hannah and a friend— both of whom were severely intoxicated by alcohol— into a room alone with him, where he allegedly had unconsensual sex with a nearly-unconscious Hannah. Her friend reportedly had to “finish him off” to get him away from her. While this was taking place, members of The Vlog Squad listened outside the door, at one point even going in to watch. The resulting video, entitled “SHE SHOULD NOT HAVE PLAYED WITH FIRE!!!”, portrayed as a threesome scheme, received over 5 million views before it was taken down.
With so many sexual assault victims coming out with their own experiences in recent months, it is vital to remember that people, even fan-favorite celebrities, should always be held accountable for their actions. Too often in society, we let rape allegations slip past without a second thought —subconsciously thinking, “they’re probably just doing it for attention,” or “they always exaggerate like that to make people feel bad for them.” This victim-blaming mentality is arguably the reason why women and men are so afraid to share their stories.
It is also vital to address the clear power dynamic between a victim and a celebrity offender whose status unfairly advantages them— the mere fact that both Dobrik and Zeglaitis felt comfortable enough to upload the video and monetize it when they were well aware of the events that had transpired, was extremely upsetting to fans. Unfortunately, accountability will never be taken in a situation where the perpetrator has the privilege to go about with their lives as if nothing happened. Dobrik only publicly apologized in a Youtube Video once the news was brought to the attention of the media, and after many of his large sponsors like EA Sports and Doordash cut all ties with him.
When asked about the power dynamic, an anonymous Junior wholeheartedly agreed; “I absolutely believe a power dynamic exists. For David to say [in his apology video] that he was unaware of the girls feelings at the time does not feel genuine at all! He should know that his status does have an effect on people, and know how difficult it is to say no to someone with so much influence, let alone come out with a story about it.”
This scandal ultimately begs the question: How many others have been harboring similar stories about Dobrik and the Vlog Squad? How many fans have been put into uncomfortable situations by Youtubers? How many people have been effectively silenced because of this power dynamic?
Collectively, we, as a society must learn to mitigate the effects of too much celebrity-worship at the expense of sexual assault victims.
Jennings, Rebecca. “David Dobrik and YouTube’s Distorted Culture of Consent.” Vox, Vox, 23 Mar. 2021, http://www.vox.com/the-goods/2021/3/23/22345407/what-did-david-dobrik-do-vlog-squad-cancelled-youtube.
Runnells, Riley. “Tracking Trends: David Dobrik’s Career Might Be over after ‘Business Insider’ Article.” The Post, 22 Mar. 2021, http://www.thepostathens.com/article/2021/03/tracking-trends-david-dobrik-dom-zeglaitis-business-insider-hannah-vlog-squad.Wong, Wilson. “Sponsors Drop YouTuber David Dobrik after His Former Collaborator Is Accused of Rape.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 23 Mar. 2021, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/sponsors-drop-youtuber-david-dobrik-after-his-former-collaborator-accused-n1261719.