Back in February 2016, The College Tribune broke a story which described as many as 200 students, mainly male agricultural science students, sharing and rating explicit photos of girls online. What followed was a national scandal which saw UCD and this newspaper in the spotlight.

According to the reports at the time, the group’s members would share nude photos of girls, tell stories about girls they had sex with, and rate them out of 10. There was immediate uproar. The university scrambled to act, the national press were descending like hawks, and the people of Ireland were shocked by these revelations.

But nine days later, UCD released a damning report – there was no evidence. Suddenly, the whole thing was deemed a hoax, sloppy reporting, or maybe keen student journalists wanting the rumours to be true. 

After a university investigation found no evidence of the group chat in question, the ‘UCD200’, as it became known, was dead in the water. A writer for The Irish Times concluded it was “all but certain the group never existed at all”, supporting UCD’s position.

After I looked into the matter as Editor-in-Chief of The College Tribune last year, there was never anything solid. This isn’t surprising as over three years had passed. However, it wasn’t hard to find somebody who knew someone in the group. Jack Power, who broke the story, is now a multi-award-winning journalist for The Irish Times. I know Jack, and if he says it’s true, I’m inclined to believe him.

I’m convinced this scandal was real. The UCD200 did exist, despite the findings of the university’s investigation. Most of the culprits probably scattered the moment the bad press hit. Regardless of your view though, recent revelations show that the UCD200 was a just precursor to what was to come.

Years Later, Nothing Has Changed

Last week, The Victims Alliance, an online advocacy group, broke news of an online forum of over 500 users – you guessed it – sharing sexually explicit images of women and girls without their consent.

The national uproar has returned to levels not seen since the UCD200. The most disturbing part of this, is just how organised this group became. This was the systematic exchange of sexually explicit images, and in some cases reportedly featuring under 18’s. Anybody who took a trip to the internet in Ireland recently will have witnessed the universal outrage.

Hundreds if not thousands of women have had their photos leaked and passed around. Reportedly well over 100,000 photographs have circulated. How did this happen?

What scares me, is we’ve seen this before. We’ve seen the UCD200, why wasn’t this scandal prevented? I don’t doubt that some former students who partook in the 2016 scandal were equally involved in the Discord server exposed last week.

How did this exchange become so organised? Did we miss the warning signs? Did we know somebody involved?

Perhaps it started back in school, with somebody in your year passing around some nudes. Maybe they had a group chat. Maybe they had a folder full of it. 

Back in school, I always heard such rumours. Of ‘the lads’ passing around things like that. I should have spoken up. I even had friends who engaged in the exchange of this stuff. I should have spoken up. This latest scandal has demonstrated what happens when these things aren’t stopped sooner.

Schoolboys, college students and faceless Discord profiles should face the consequences of their actions. Equally, we have a responsibility to blow the whistle, to call this out. 

I was complicit in this behaviour while at school. I stood by and watched it happen, and that’s something that I have to reckon with. We must stop these things before they evolve into forums like the one exposed this week.

Whether you believe the UCD200 happened or not, you can be damn well be sure that last week’s events did. Maybe, like me, you watched as the beginnings of this happened years ago. If we don’t catch this sooner, and have these people held accountable, we’ll be back again in a few short years talking about the latest scandal. Perhaps there’ll be more than 200, more than 500, more than 1,000 culprits next time round? This can only change through accountability, cultural awareness and calling it out for what it is: absolutely sickening, and unequivocally wrong.  

Sign the petition here, criminalise this behaviour.

Conor Capplis, Senior Reporter