Several issues affecting students have been brought to our attention thanks to the new trend of university “confessions” pages on Facebook, but the biggest concern is how the more serious of these problems are being overlooked.
Several media outlets have published similar articles in the past two weeks about the emergence of student “confessions” pages on Facebook that encourage students to share their most embarrassing and disgusting university stories; with the primary focus being concern over a potential risk to a student’s employability if they become involved with such pages. Others have mentioned that the pages are degrading to women students, or that they promote binge drinking and lewd behaviour. Yes, these pages are all of these things, but what we should also notice is the worrying, and in some cases genuinely disturbing, evidence of even more serious issues.
The accounts posted on the pages based at universities such as Manchester, Bangor, Aberystwyth, Birmingham and Swansea show a frightening lack of awareness about personal safety in social situations. Almost every single sexual encounter posted on the page involves excessive consumption of alcohol, memory loss, and usually at least one person involved in each situation implying that they regretted the encounter when they returned to a sober state.
Several posts suggest that many students have serious misconceptions over what constitutes as consensual sex, while in one case, the writer claims to have deliberately spread a sexually transmitted disease to as many male students as possible, which in a court of law could lead to charges of GBH. Others admitted to plying women with alcohol to make them more willing to have sex; playing jokes on fellow students where they unknowingly consumed semen or urine; and to having sexual relationships with Swansea University lecturers.
Swansea University Students’ Union President Tom Upton released a statement to inform students that any involvement with pages like Swansea Uni Confessions could have serious ramifications on future job prospects.
“The content on these pages is alarming and we in no way condone this behaviour or the nature of the page,” he said.
“By posting on sites such as the ‘Confessions Page’ students could be jeopardizing future employment prospects, as companies are increasingly using the internet to search for information on job applicants.”
NUS Wales Women’s Officer Rhiannon Hedge was keen to stress that employability is not the only thing students should consider before becoming involved with confessions pages.
“The contributors and fans of these pages will tell you it’s all a bit of harmless fun. The most concerning aspect of the endless stream of ‘confessions’ is not only that they contain unwitting admissions of sexual assault, rape and other serious crimes – it’s that these criminal confessions have no distinct and separate reaction from any other tale on the page. If it was harmless fun and not related to a culture that normalises sexual violence, those particular stories would never have been promoted as humour.
“We’re facing a culture where women are unwilling to report sexual violence because they fear they won’t be believed, and men are unwittingly announcing crimes of sexual violence they’ve committed because they’ve never been taught by their school or the society around them about consent and respect.
“Any educational institution has a duty of care to its students to do everything it can to promote respect and safety among its community. Reactions to these issues should always centre around the rights, needs and protection of students.”
When administrators were contacted with questions regarding how the Swansea Uni Confessions page was started and whether they were actual students of Swansea University they were quick to respond, albeit anonymously. They said that they were current students (both male and female), and that they had started the page after seeing similar pages based at universities such as Reading and Edinburgh. They were adamant that the page was not degrading towards women.
“With some people in belief [sic] there is a rising issue with sexism then to think this page is promoting a sexist view is deluded,” they wrote.
“This page does not have any sexist comments or remarks, there may be some confessions which involve a females [sic] being the ‘victim’ of pranks but there is an equal share of the victims being men. We do not encourage sexism on our page and if anything this page puts everyone on equal playing terms, other than what has been said in the confession there is no way of working out whether a male or female has made the confession.”
Despite the denial that any content posted on the page promoted a sexist view, many elements of the page share similar traits and formatting to sexist websites aimed at undergraduates such as TopLad and UniLad, including the tendency to rate women out of 10 and the use of hashtags at the end of a story. The attempt by those behind the page to justify its content was almost exactly the same as the response from both those who created UniLad and those who visit the site: that it’s all just “banter”.
“Everyone loves these kinds of pages and that was why we set it up to get a healthy reaction and people can have a laugh reading some confessions without the risk of embarrassment,” they said.
“These pages don’t have the greatest of lifespans similar to the Swansea Uni Memes page, so we’re trying to get the best reaction and confession in the time that this is popular. Hopefully it carries on though.”
“As for moderating the content, we normally post as soon as we receive a confession, we haven’t been editing any of the posts but we will be soon to edit grammar and spelling mistakes. At the moment we post any confession but we’re are [sic] going to begin not posting ones we don’t find funny or embarrassing enough.”
The page administrators were apparently told by Swansea University representatives that no further action would be taken against the page.
“Someone believed the site was vulgar and was damaging for the futures of students and the Swansea area. The complaint wasn’t sent directly to us but to the University, who stated that they cannot as [sic] us to remove the page but they would take action if we continued to use the Swansea University logo as a profile picture. Therefore we removed the picture and the University representative said this was all the action they would take.”
A CID officer commented on the page and said it was likely that several acts that were confessed to could lead to criminal charges if the identities of those behind the confessions were revealed.
“Many of these “confessions” are extremely odd and disgusting. You would be correct in believing that some of them could lead to charges of assault in a court of law. Others could be interpreted as a sexual offence, and possibly even cases of voyeurism.”
When asked if they were aware that at least one of the stories posted on the page could be legally defined as rape, the page administrators responded with the following:
“I believe it is legally defined as sexual assault or alcohol facilitated sexual assault. It can be judged as rape through any evidence given.”
This response alone should be enough to instigate further action from the university, despite the fact that they have apparently already said that no more will be taken. The administrators of this page have stated that they are fully aware that they are posting “confessions” from Swansea students who are admitting, whether they realise it themselves or not, to sexual assault, thereby providing Facebook users with a platform where they can boast about potentially criminal acts to an audience of over 2000 people.
Examples of the posts on Swansea Uni Confessions include:
“I was feeling pretty confident in bagging a slag for the night, as I had been putting in the ground work with a girl over the previous week. As planned, I fuelled her with enough cheap jager to get her back to mine.”
“Back in first year I was living with a housemate from hell, she was a right stuck up bitch!! One cold wintery evening back in 2009 me and my mate decided to jizz in her butter. Watching her spread our jizz on her toast the next morning was priceless. I did confess to her before she graduated but thankfully she thought I was joking.”
“One of my flatmates used to use other peoples milk without asking so another of my flatmates decided appropriate action needed to be taken. He wanked into his own milk bottle, told the rest of us so we didn’t use it, then sat back and watched smugly as she made her cup of tea.. using his milk as she had been before.”
“Going back to a girls room after a night to wake up to her not remembering anything. AWKWARD! Then explaining everything which led to staying in her bed till about 1pm. What a lass!”
“After consuming a ridiculous amount of alcohol through the Ring of Fire we headed down to Fresh & Free where my flat mate soon disappeared. He turned up an hour later with the following news… ”I just fingered a girl, she didn’t like it and ran away.”
“Well pretty much, I took a lecturer back home. We did stuff, then the next day I found out it was one of my friends lecturers”
The idea of confessing in a public sphere is nothing new, and confessions have long-since been a feature in men’s magazines, with some even being entirely based on confessions. Whether all of these stories are actually true is questionable, but despite the claim of anonymity to anyone who submits a story, many writers have already been named and shamed.
By Roisin O’Connor
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