YouTuber James Charles apologizes for sending sexual messages to teens

CBC Kids News • Published 2021-04-12 10:00

Kids need to understand consent, experts say


James Charles has addressed allegations that he was sending sexual messages to teens.

In a YouTube video posted April 1 called “Holding Myself Accountable,” the U.S. makeup artist called his actions “reckless” and “desperate.”

More than four teens have come forward on social media to say Charles, who is 21, sent them inappropriate messages when they were under the age of 18.

There's a lot we don't know about what actually happened here, and no criminal charges have been laid.

But experts say this is a good opportunity to remind kids how to say no if an adult crosses the line.

“I think it's really important that you prioritize being safe over being polite and being kind." - Educator Farrah Khan

Not the first time

This isn’t the first time Charles, who has more than 25 million followers, has been accused of this kind of behaviour.

Back in May 2019, he posted a video that addressed similar allegations.

The latest video, which got seven million views in one week, is a bit different in that he apologized: 

“To the guys involved in the situation, I want to say I’m sorry.”

James Charles, left, is a celebrity makeup artist who has worked with Kylie Jenner, right, in collab videos. Many of James Charles’s friends and business partners have not commented on recent allegations. (Image credit: James Charles/Instagram)

“I’m sorry that I added you, I’m sorry that I flirted with you and I’m really sorry that I made you uncomfortable,” Charles continued.

In the April 1 video Charles said the boys initially told him they were 18.

But he added he should have done more research to confirm that.

What does the law say in Canada?

Why does age matter?

In Canada, it’s against the law for an adult to text sexually suggestive words or photos to children under the age of 18.

Age of consent laws are designed to protect children and teens from abuse and exploitation.

The dangerous power of celebrity

The danger is in the power imbalance, said Farrah Khan, the manager of Consent Comes First, at Toronto’s Ryerson University.

When an adult asks a kid to do something, that kid might feel pressured to say yes, even when they don’t want to.

When that adult is a celebrity, the power imbalance can be even worse, Khan said.

“When it's a person in a position of power — an adult that's exerting that on you as a child — it's not OK,” she said.

Educator Farrah Khan wants to see James Charles held accountable for his actions. She said that starts with him getting help from a professional therapist. (Image credit: Grant Linton/CBC News)

What is consent?

A lot of discussion around James Charles comes down to the word consent, Khan said.

Consent is your right to say yes or agree to something.

Khan said she likes the “fries” approach to giving consent, developed and created by a U.S. organization called Planned Parenthood.

Khan said that just because you consented or said ‘yes’ to something doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind once you know more information, like someone’s age. (Image credit: Planned Parenthood, graphic design by Philip Street)

Of course, in a case like this, it wouldn’t matter if consent was freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic or specific, because this kind of interaction — between an adult and a child — would be against the law.

Khan said the adult could be someone you know — like a coach or a teacher — or a celebrity like James Charles. Either way, the same rules apply.

“If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, you have to know that you have the right to say no.”

Know your rights

Feeling empowered to say no is key, said Sara L. Austin, founder and CEO of Children First Canada, an organization that seeks to improve the lives of Canadian kids.

Austin said she worries that not enough Canadian kids know their rights, making it “very easy for adults to take advantage of them and to use their power and influence in a way that's deeply harmful.”

Sara L. Austin said a recent survey showed that many Canadian kids don’t know they have rights. (Image credit: austinsaral/Twitter)

“We need to equip children with the knowledge and skills that they need to be able to protect themselves,” she said in an interview with CBC Kids News.

Expert advice if this happens to you

Austin and Khan shared these tips for staying safe when interacting with adults online.

“I think it's really important that you prioritize being safe over being polite and being kind,” said Khan.

If an adult in your life is making you uncomfortable, here’s what to do:

Not sure who to talk to? Try a hotline like Kids Help Phone.

To use the Kids Help Phone text service, text CONNECT to 686868.

You can also reach a professional counsellor at Kids Help Phone any time day or night by calling 1-800-668-6868.

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