1 minute, ten seconds.

That’s how long I withstood a viewing of the video, posted on October 27th and now approaching two million views, of Hillary Adams, aged 16 at the time, being viciously beaten by her father, Aransas Co. family court Judge William Adams.  In 2004, Hillary Adams was caught accessing content online for which she hadn’t paid, an act that enraged her father and prompted Hillary to turn on a camera she had hidden in her room to capture just such an event (apparently the beating caught on video in this incident was not without precedent).

Hillary Adams posts the 2004 video she captured of her own savage beating at the hands of her father, a family court judge. The video is approaching 2 million views as of this writing.

Indeed, Judge Adams unleashes a torrent of verbal and physical abuse so profoundly violent, disturbing and out of proportion in any case, much less given the circumstances of this one as reported by his daughter, that I was unable to take any more after only 70 seconds.  Hillary Adams endured the beating for seven minutes. According to published reports across the Web, the video carries on for the entirety of that beating, during which time Judge Williams threatens to hit his daughter in the face with a belt, enlists his (now ex-)wife to assist in the abuse (not atypical behavior in family abuse situations in which a tyrannical adult holds an entire family hostage) and actually leaves the room only to come back for a second round with another belt and possibly a board.

And while this tragic and sickening event may not have been without precedent in the Adams home – by all accounts, an upper-middle class, suburban arrangement in a town on Texas’s Gulf Coast – the fact that such a video a. has gone viral and b. was posted by the victim depicted within it certainly seems to be.  That Hillary Adams enlisted YouTube as her distribution channel for the video has not been lost on many commentators around the Web, who have noted with sad irony that it was Adams’ use of the Internet in the first place that brought the wrath of her father upon her – not that any child can be held to blame for the violent actions of an adult.  And as is abundantly clear in the brief moments I was able to stomach of this video, there is no behavior imaginable so heinous as to merit the vicious sadism of Judge Adams’ attack.

In a page seemingly taken straight from the worldwide Stieg Larsson bestseller and subsequent blockbuster movie hit The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Larsson’s protagonist catches her court-appointed guardian and rapist on video, and uses the video to subsequently blackmail him and regain her independence), although preceding it by several years, Hillary Adams set up a camera in anticipation of a further violent incident that she could then capture on video as evidence of the abusive attacks unleashed upon her by her father.  His standing as a well-respected and authority-wielding judge was clearly not lost on her, and perhaps she felt that she would need such irrefutable proof to be taken seriously in a community in which her father undoubtedly had ties to law enforcement and other powerful figures.

So what does this event mean in the larger scheme of things?  Has Hillary Adams brought to light an empowering new defense for victims of abuse, who may be able to capture evidence that could later be used to charge and convict those responsible for their torment?  Or does this suggest a new burden to be placed on the shoulders of those abused – think “pix or it didn’t happen.”  In a world where an abused person’s word is frequently not enough to free them from their abuser, could what Hillary Adams did offer a way for victims to equalize power in a decidedly imbalanced situation? Or is the risk so great that there is too much potential danger – especially in the cases of minors, to suggest to them that they must be responsible for having to document their own abuse in this way if they are to have any hope of being believed and/or being freed?  And what of those young people who don’t have the access to the equipment or the knowledge of how to use it to document their torment?  How many children use computers also used, and monitored, by the adults in their home?  The risk indeed feels great.

YouTube’s Community Guidelines, captured on 10/03/2011.

Meanwhile, what is YouTube’s role in all of this?  While Hillary Adams’ video, on the surface, certainly seems to be in violation of at least some of the site’s standards for content (YouTube uses the friendly-sounding “Community Guidelines” term to describe these), it still is posted as of this writing* – with an age-restriction caveat suggesting material not suitable for children.  You don’t say, YouTube.

How did this video pass the YouTube screening process?  Assuming it was, in fact, directly vetted (and not just missed by human or algorithmic eyes trained to catch unsuitable content), it would seem that YouTube has at least tacitly accepted an advocacy role on behalf of Hillary Adams – compelled to allow the material to stand, perhaps, based on the written narrative that Adams herself included alongside the video, explaining its context and origin.

If so, what about the moral and ethical implications of a video with this kind of content driving 2 million clicks to a commercial site? What remuneration is YouTube working out with Adams?  Are YouTube the heroes for providing her the global platform to get the support she has longed for, or should they be demonized for turning that process into a commercial one?  Will the public airing of her own dark, “behind-closed-doors” tragedy ultimately be Hillary Adams’  deliverance – either by money earned directly or indirectly, by her sudden fame and prominence, or the other consequences soon to unfold in the coming days?  And what about all of us, the public who have seen the video itself, or read accounts of it, and feel the loss of a little bit of our collective soul for having done so?  How can we respond with humanity and compassion to this situation?  What do we do with the sounds and images from viewing this material that are now burned into our brains? Sleep was difficult for me to come by last night and – clearly – it will be again tonight.

I was able to endure a viewing of this video for only 1 minute and ten seconds.

Hillary Adams lived the reality of it for the eternity of a childhood.

Hillary Adams expresses her wish for her family’s deliverance from the cycle of abuse, and for the rest of the Internet to cease its threats towards her father.

* I have elected to offer no direct links to this video, as I do not want to be responsible for others inadvertently, or even purposely, viewing it.  Nevertheless, it is now mirrored across the Web on countless sites and available for those who wish to seek it out.  Be warned that it is unbearably violent, profane, graphic and disturbing.

A version of this entry is posted at http://hastac.org/blogs/sarahr/2011/11/03/110 .

5 thoughts on “1:10.

  1. I haven’t and won’t watch the video, but I have read accounts of it. You raise some excellent questions. I think we’re already moving in the direction of “pics or it didn’t happen” for a whole host of things. I hate the thought that people are coming to feel empowered by pervasive video surveillance, especially in an era where video can be so easily faked if you have the money for even high grade consumer level equipment.

    1. I think there is a frightening precedent, Dave, around the notion that oppressed, abused people need to document their abuse – often at great personal risk in so doing – in order to be taken seriously. Think of the power differential we’re seeing, for example, in the case of people recording police misconduct and brutality in the various organic uprisings throughout the world of late. Yet without people capturing these sorts of things, it seems the general public and certainly power holders would deny, deny, deny. While at the 12th annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR 12.0), however, I encountered an interesting study from a German woman at the University of Copenhagen who studied a White Power rally in Dresden and the attendant leftist resistance movements assembled in response. She reported the story of how the ultra-rightists (primarily Neo-Nazi Skins and other related groups) attacked and destroyed a local home, terrorizing the residents. From a safe distance, some people were able to record on video these actions and later turned it over to police – yet there was no conclusive, across-the-board consensus that the right-wing Neo-Nazis were at fault, in spite of what appeared to be irrefutable video evidence! Indeed, some sympathetic to their cause claimed that the video was part of an elaborate hoax on the part of the leftist activists, designed to discredit the right.

      1. Absolutely. I think it’s great that the technology allows people to capture some of these events, but once it becomes the sort of minimum proof, that’s a real problem. That’s already happening. Ever since that famous quote from a Bush White House official, the US left has liked to call itself the “reality based community” and such. It really may be that we are headed into the post-reality age, where those of us in the reality based community are, in fact, obsolete. When I think of video manipulation technology in the context of a world where ideologues are able to make any assertion as fact and and I’m scared to death. You can’t tell a Fox News viewer for example that he’s being lied to. No amount of proof is believed. You’re just telling lies to them. Video is sort of the last frontier of verifiable truth. Well, what happens when differing ideological news sources start showing contradictory digital video of events? Who do you believe if Fox News shows Congressman Smith spitting on a Tea Party protester and MSNBC shows the Tea Party protester spitting on Congressman Smith? Who do you believe? You believe who you were already inclined to believe. The precedent for that is already there. Once video evidence of the type in this beating becomes completely suspect, once we’ve reached a point with the tech where we concede that the truth can’t be proven, there’s no objective reality anymore. It all becomes a case of the victims word against the perps. We already know where that leads. Powerless and marginalized groups will consistently get the shaft and the powerful and the dominant will have things fall their way.

  2. Dave, once again I agree with you. As you’re probably aware, the man depicted in this beating has not _denied_ that occurred, but is now qualifying it with all sorts of statements like, “It’s not as bad as it looks,” and “you don’t know the whole story” – in other words, attempting to mitigate the veracity of the incident as captured on video. If this tactic works, as it has in other cases, then the value of video evidence really has been called into question. Furthermore, I’m reminded of another current case in which a teenager who had been repeatedly harassed at school was jumped and brutally beaten by three other students – naturally, this was all caught on video. To date, only one of the attackers has received any punishment whatsoever, in the form of a three-day suspension from school – big deal to a teen bully, huh? No criminal charges filed whatsoever – meaning that the real issue isn’t the capturing of these episodes – police brutality, child abuse, gay-bashing – on video, but what the social climate is that either permits and excuses these behaviors or decries them. The critical thing seems therefore _not_ to be the video evidence, which I am resisting due the onus it puts on victims, and the potential danger of demanding they provide it in these cases, but whether or not we as a society accept and tolerate this abuse. Guess what the evidence on that issue is appearing to suggest.

    Meanwhile, as I described in this post: http://illusionofvolition.com/2011/03/04/bodies-and-technologies-in-resistance-the-wisconsin-union-protests-from-the-ground/ , you may recall during the Wisconsin Union protests that FOX News aired footage from some random union vs. non-union physical altercation somewhere WITH PALM TREES while discussing and reporting on the Wisconsin labor struggle as it happened – suggesting, of course, that those captured on video had something to do with what was happening on the ground in Madison (by all accounts, wholly peaceful protests). As you said, what is the likelihood that proving the false and misleading nature of that video to a diehard FOX News supporter will actually change her mind? And, even worse, what about the subconscious consumption of that material that obviously went on unchecked in the majority of cases?

    It’s all very ominous.

    1. There’s something deeply sick at work in our society that the kind of abuse we’re seeing in so many of these cases is tolerated or excused even when caught. The best indicator of just how sick we are is the cheering for some of this stuff. When you have politically engaged people, whether they’re knowledgeable or not, cheering on the idea of people being left to die for lack of health insurance, or cheering on the death penalty for the mentally disabled, for people where the witnesses were coerced and later recanted, etc. If nothing else, even if they didn’t mean it, a sense of propriety would have once demanded that people state that these things are injustices.

Comments are closed.