Home News Victoria’s Secret Karen Video: Court Cases Reveal What People Missed

Victoria’s Secret Karen Video: Court Cases Reveal What People Missed


Beginning as a Covid-era dispute over social distancing at a New Jersey shopping mall renowned for its luxury stores, events quickly escalated into something far worse.

Ijeoma Ukenta had gone there to use her coupon for free Victoria’s Secret underwear, when another customer named Abigail Elphick got too close, prompting Ms. Ukenta to ask her to move six feet back.

victoria secret karen lawsuit
victoria secret karen lawsuit

Ms. Elphick complained to a cashier. Ms. Ukenta then began recording the incident on her phone and its dramatic unfolding began rapidly thereafter.

Ms. Elphick, who is white, lunged at Ukenta who is black before collapsing on the floor in tears begging that she stop recording their “mental breakdown”.

Ms. Ukenta quickly requested security officers; Ms. Elphick made her call directly to police, continuing the recording for 15 minutes more.

Ms. Elphick became well-known among viewers of what quickly turned viral video, becoming known as Victoria’s Secret Karen; one of many villainous characters appearing frequently online fare.

People watching the episode unfold online or in stores likely weren’t aware of Ms. Elphick’s disability – she suffered from both medical and psychological conditions according to legal filings which shed new light on their encounter.

Shaming videos have emerged in recent years as effective tools for highlighting the everyday racism experienced by Black people, yet court documents filed recently illustrate how such videos may also reduce complex interactions to two-dimensional accounts.

Ms. Elphick, 27, lives in a complex for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. According to her lawyers’ complaint filed on her behalf, her behavior stemmed not from any “race-based” animus but instead out of fear that being filmed would result in losing both her apartment and job.

Ms. Ukenta described herself in her lawsuit as being driven by fear; she was acutely aware that, should police be called, she, as an African-American woman, may not be believed.

Ms. Ukenta had an established online presence and YouTube channel where she hosted videos addressing gardening, food, travel and cultural events in Newark where she resided.

She posted the Victoria’s Secret video in installments across multiple social media sites, and the brief encounter that transpired at Millburn’s Mall at Short Hills quickly garnered widespread outrage online.

Ms. Ukenta’s first video, “Karen Goes Crazy Part 1,” has been seen over 2.6 million times on YouTube and was even named number one in an unrelated channel’s compilation of “Top 25 Most Notorious Karen Videos of ALL TIME.”

Ms. Ukenta successfully crowdfunded over $104,000 through her GoFundMe campaign “Help Me Defend Myself Against Karen”.

The incident became widely publicized as an extreme example of “Karen,” an encounter between a Black individual and white female who later calls the authorities, endangering both parties involved.

“Do you see how they’re killing us all,” Ms. Ukenta can be heard saying on the video.

But, in reality, both the conflict and its aftermath were far more complex than they appeared at first glance.

In July, Ms. Ukenta filed a lawsuit against Ms. Elphick, Victoria’s Secret, the mall and its security company for negligence; according to her claims they had taken grossly inadequate steps against an attempted assault from one of their fellow shoppers and treated her like the antagonist rather than as the victim. A video footage shows Ms. Ukenta asking why security officers, who only appear when requested by an employee of Victoria’s Secret or Victoria’s Secret themselves, take so long in arriving.

Ms. Ukenta alleges in her complaint against them that they were dismissive towards her, indifferent and dismissive about any concerns for her safety that were expressed by Ms. Ukenta.

Ms. Elphick explained to an officer upon arrival at the scene that her panic stemmed from fear that the video would be widely distributed and cause her to lose both her job and apartment, according to a police report.

As images of Elphick circulated worldwide, an online commenter advised viewers to reach out to a school district where she had interned, demanding they fire their “racist employee”. She began receiving harassing phone calls and even reported in April that someone who referenced Victoria’s Secret had threatened rape and murder for speaking up, according to court records.

Tom Toronto, president of Bergen County United Way – which operates the residential complex where Ms. Elphick lives – expressed shock over what he called an unprecedented loss of perspective and proportion in response to this video’s aftermath.

“She has an anxiety disorder,” he stated, before going on to describe how the world around them changed it into something entirely different than originally planned.

Ms. Ukenta’s YouTube videos regarding Ms. Elphick have garnered the most views, garnering her over 26,000 subscribers.

Ms. Elphick alleges her right to privacy was breached when Ms. Ukenta revealed personal details about her. However, her legal filing also draws attention to recent videos published by Ms. Ukenta which criticize various landlords and stores; such videos provide further proof that Ms. Ukenta may have engaged in harassment against these groups since Short Hills mall incident.

“Ukenta has made a career out of preying on individuals from behind her keyboard,” according to the complaint, inciting hatred while exploiting victims and the public at large for her own financial gain.

Ms. Ukenta’s attorney, Tracey C. Hinson, strongly denies these accusations, emphasizing how well-grounded Ms. Ukenta’s decision was to continue recording. Hinson stated this further validates why she began recording in the first place.

Hinson stated, “She knew in Millburn, New Jersey, no one would believe her and this has happened exactly.

Ms. Ukenta has also published videos that don’t depict conflict, including positive dining and shopping experiences.

Lawyers representing the lingerie store and security company did not respond to our requests for comment, while one representing the mall declined due to an ongoing lawsuit.

No one knows exactly how Ms. Ukenta spent the money she raised through GoFundMe; when we reached her by phone she claimed not to be available right away to discuss this matter.

Ms. Ukenta stated online that she felt it only fair that she benefit financially from video content widely watched on social media, like video uploaded by herself or anyone else. “Why wouldn’t I want to make $ off MY videos if everyone else does,” she wrote on X, the site previously known as Twitter two months after the incident occurred.

Ms. Hinson stated she could not ascertain exactly how much Ms. Ukenta earned through online activity, as her social media presence was irrelevant to Victoria’s Secret’s recorded interactions.

Ms. Hinson believes it is her right to inform the public of what transpired with her case.

“This is nothing more than an attempt to hurt,” she asserted.

Videos featuring white women who quickly burst into tears or called authorities on people of color were common during the pandemic and became even more common as protests over police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, spread across the nation. One San Francisco woman called authorities about selling Black girl selling bottles of water for sale while in New York woman with unleashed dog dialed 911 following an encounter in Central Park between their own dog and bird-watcher of African heritage became prominent early examples.

Apryl Williams, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan who has conducted extensive research into videos depicting white women as entitled aggressors, believes so-called Karen memes can play an invaluable role in fighting for racial equity.

She noted that their decreased frequency over the past year indicates their effectiveness as tools against racism.

“People have come to recognize the social ramifications associated with being known as Karen,” she said, alluding to possible loss of employment or social standing due to being identified with this name.

Professor Williams did not know much about Ms. Ukenta or her other videos posted to YouTube, yet their sheer volume did not diminish the behavior they depict.

“Maybe she’s doing it to generate revenue,” Professor Williams suggested, “but maybe she’s documenting Karen’s behavior for everyone to see.”

Academics who specialize in media anthropology find it no surprise that Victoria’s Secret Karen remains a cultural symbol two years after the incident.

Online posts that evoke strong emotions such as anger, outrage or disgust typically go viral the quickest and farthest, according to James P. Walsh of Ontario Tech University’s Graduate Criminal Science Department.

Once an article or post is widely liked or shared, its credibility increases exponentially – further expanding its reach.

“This just seems to snowball,” Professor Walsh observed, “and get out of hand.”

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