A disclaimer on these series on pieces can be found here.
Following the publication of an article by the University Times (UT) in September 2021, several students have alleged that confidential testimony they gave to one of the paper’s journalists was leaked.
On 7 September 2021, UT published an article about a culture of harassment and bullying within Trinity’s two debating societies, the College Historical Society (the Hist) and the University Philosophical Society (The Phil).
The article was entitled “Phil, Hist Accused of Perpetuating Culture of Harassment and Bullying”, and contained anonymous accounts from victims who had experienced harassment within these societies. The article, written by the current deputy editor, detailed how some senior members of the societies had used their position to make sexual advances towards first year students in these societies.
The article emphasised how many of the victims who spoke to UT had stressed their need for anonymity, for fear that identification of themselves or their abusers would lead to further harassment and bullying.
In November of last year, some of those interviewed became aware of allegations that their anonymity had not been upheld, and that individual stories had been passed around social circles on campus.
Over the last two weeks, a number of students involved spoke to Trinity News about their experience of the investigation.
One person spoke about the realisation that their anonymity had not been respected: “It came as quite a shock when I first heard about it, and then I discovered more of the extent of it. It felt like very personal stories of trauma were being treated like little titbits of gossip to be shared over drinks with friends, rather than treated with the gravity they deserved.”
The student continued: “Hearing stories back to me after they had filtered through circles of friends was terrifying, because it was like a game of Chinese whispers, with names and events entirely mixed up.”
“It also seemed like these stories were more about improving [the deputy editor’s] standing as a journalist, but even that wouldn’t have been as awful if it wasn’t followed with such blatant disrespect by leaking the stories.”
One student explained the moment of realisation that her anonymous conversation with the deputy editor appeared to have been leaked. They said: “I remember when the penny dropped. Someone repeated back to me the actual text I sent [the deputy editor]. Exact wording. My stomach dropped. I instantly burst into tears.”
Another student recalled a similar situation. They said that they “started to hear from other victims that stories were being spread around at parties, in social situations”.
“They weren’t being spread by [the deputy editor], they were being spread by other people and being treated like bits of gossip,” they explained. “This wasn’t even an immediate connection; the names were told to me, who was at these parties, and I didn’t know any of them.”
One student detailed how the stories were allegedly leaked, explaining: “The most horrific thing I heard about everything being leaked was that it wasn’t even [the deputy editor] at a party, it was someone from her friend group telling these stories, and framing them as though they were gossip.”
“This is my life; and they were treating it like a party piece. They were swapping stories with people about abuse.”
The deputy editor was the only UT journalist who spoke with victims throughout the course of the investigation.
Students explained that they felt they had lost agency over their story once individual accounts had been allegedly leaked.
One student said: “To have one’s story leaked feels like the authority and power over your voice and your story has been removed.”
They continued: “Speaking out and seeing that story in an article, and knowing you’re letting others know they are not alone, feels like an empowering use of something terrible, and taking back control. With the leaks, that authority felt as though it had been taken away again.”
Another student added: “I think as a victim, you don’t have the agency to tell your story anymore; you’re giving it to this person hoping that they’re going to service you, and there will be some sort of development of justice, and hearing that it was being spread around like gossip was so unsettling. We didn’t know to what degree what had been leaked, what stories, who, where, but we all knew it was coming from [the deputy editor], because there was nobody else.”
“All these details were coming from one person,” they explained. “It was traumatic.”
Trinity News was given access to some of the message exchanges which are alleged to have been leaked. Precise delineation of what information was on or off the record was not present. These leaked messages also contained lists of names of students connected to bullying and harassment within the two debating societies, both abusers and victims.
Despite this lack of clarification, information from these private messages were used in the UT article.
The story was published in September of last year, with students stating that the investigation began at least as early as May 2021. Some of those involved became aware of their anonymity allegedly being broken in November.
They added that this breach had a profound effect on them, with one saying: “I didn’t go to College in person for nearly two weeks; I couldn’t go in person because I was terrified that these people who had hurt me so badly would do something to me.”
“It was one of the most traumatic things that have ever happened to me, where I was alone at home trying to hold these pieces together and figure out when things were said, and when things were done,” the student continued. “This was less than two months from when the article came out.”
They continued: “Admittedly, I was suicidal. I was in such a state. I relived every single thing that first night; every single fear, every single story, things that I had pushed down because I didn’t want to think about them, and all I could think about was ‘who knows about what happened’.”
Students emphasised how the promise of anonymity was stressed from the beginning of the University Times’ investigation.
“Everything was anonymous, that was the promised thing,” one student said. “That was the only reason why I continued with the project.”
Speaking about the actual conduct of the investigation, one student explained how the journalist would privately message them about how the article was coming along, followed by a question which would lead to a conversation between them.
“If you said anything, you felt as though you were saying it in confidence, because why would she tell anybody,” they explained.
“That’s the really scary part – you know someone has your trauma written down somewhere with all these details that you haven’t admitted to anybody outside of your personal social circle,” they explained. “I still don’t know how far my story has gotten. I’ve been scared of coming forward again.”
Students who spoke with Trinity News explained how throughout the process of the investigation, they were asked for names of those who may have potentially been involved in harassment and bullying in College societies.
“I was asked for names of people who I was speaking to her about,” they explained. “These were individuals with whom I had negative experiences, particularly in my first two years of college.”
They continued: “However, at one stage she messaged me with a name, asking for more information, but I had none on this person, except that I knew who was involved in the story.”
“This person had not consented for their story to be shared or part of the article whatsoever, and I was rather annoyed that [the deputy editor] asked me out of the blue for information. It completely broke confidentiality, and I had a feeling that instances like this were more about who this information was about, rather than caring for victims.”
The allegations of leaked information have led to at least three complaints to the Press Ombudsman, two of which were seen by Trinity News, alongside submissions to the Junior Dean.
One student told of an incident in which anonymous information about a particular instance of harassment was allegedly leaked to an individual who had been involved in it. The student stated that they felt as though this was done with the intention of “help[ing] friends”.
Those interviewed expressed concern about the trajectory of the investigation, and the role the deputy editor played in their anonymous stories allegedly being leaked, with reference to the upcoming TCDSU sabbatical elections.
One student stated: “[The deputy editor] has already proven herself to have little respect for journalistic ethics, breaching confidentiality, and though that is never good, when it involves stories like this, it’s even worse.”
“These stories were personal ones of trauma, assault and harassment, and it shows a blatant disregard for the difficulty these students had in speaking up about them.”
The student continued: “For her to be editor would make UT an unsafe space for victims, make it harder for victims to speak up about their trauma. It is as though such personal stories were used for social gain and to further her career, and an individual like that, in my view, cannot be trusted in a position of power.”
“UT’s response to the leaking overall was pathetic. The fact she is still running for editor after this is symbolic of that – because I don’t think any newspaper with respect for the ethics of journalism would allow an individual who breached confidentiality like this to run for the highest position.”
Another student agreed, saying: “We were used for clicks, we were used for engagement with UT, we were the big Freshers’ Week story.”
“I think she hasn’t and won’t learn from this. This person shouldn’t be paid to deliver student journalism,” they said.
The deputy editor is running unopposed for the position of UT editor.
In a statement to Trinity News, the deputy editor said all the allegations were “wholly false and defamatory”.
She did say that she had “provided the Junior Dean with a screenshot of a Facebook Messenger conversation that I had with a friend” as “this friend had made serious allegations and had repeatedly spread false rumours about another student, and the Junior Dean was investigating”.
“As is the case with many stories reported in student newspapers, this same friend who was spreading the false rumours was also a source for my article on the culture of bullying and harassment in the Phil and the Hist,” the statement continued.
The deputy editor concluded: “The Messenger screenshot was of a personal conversation with a friend and it was not a journalistic conversation.”