Was The “Warwick Group Chat Affair” An Invasion of Privacy? 

The messages sent in a group chat made up of Warwick University students has shaken social media and lead to a crisis in which the Vice Chancellor of Warwick is being urged to resign. Threats to female students, rape, paedophilia, racism and ableism. Messages such as “sometimes it’s fun to just go wild and rape 100 girls” or “rape the whole flat to teach them a lesson”. The content of this chat, exposed for the first time by the University’s newspaper The Boar, has brought back to the public debate issues such as rape culture, invasion of privacy, freedom of speech and how far can you take a joke in today’s society. 

The group chat was reported last may to Warwick University through an official complaint which included ninety-eight screenshots taken from the above-mentioned chat. Some of these screenshots were made public by The Boar and have been circulating the internet ever since. As a result of the University’s investigation, disciplinary measures against the students involved were put in place. From the 11 accused students, one was banned from Warwick University for life, two were banned for ten years and other two had to leave University for a year. 

Over the past few weeks, Warwick University has received considerable backlash due to their decision to reduce the disciplinary action against two of the involved students from ten years to one. It has already been confirmed than four of the involved students are coming back to education next academic year, and the fact that Warwick University is giving these two other students the possibility to come back before expected has not been welcome by students across the nation. 

From its very name – “F*** women disrespect them all”– to every message that has been exposed so far, this group chat is the personification of everything society has been fighting against for the last 60 years. It is unapologetically offensive, and the specific reference to fellow students makes it not only creepy but a real threat to those mentioned in it and every other student on campus. In fact, some female students have publicly expressed their disappointment and concern over their University’s decision. As another student told the BBC, she 

was “terrified at the prospect of having these boys in my seminar”. If the University’s priority was its students and staff wellbeing, the leniency regarding the disciplinary actions is inadmissible. Even though they have not done anything they mentioned in the chat, the fact that they were able to joke about it in such a frivolous way is particularly concerning. It can start as a “light-minded” comment, but you can never tell how it is going to end up. 

Allegedly, these attitudes are a result of the rape culture inherent to our society. This would mean that rape is common and normalized by the roles and power relations between genders. How does this apply to these students and the messages they sent? The answer is given by themselves: yes, this is partially a result of rape culture because they feel no regret and they normalise the messages they send. Shortly after the first group chat was discovered, the students involved created a new group, in which they showed no remorse nor understanding of the severity of the situation, sending messages such as “Let’s do it all again”. 

The statements made by one of the students could not be more right. “I just don’t believe for a second we are any worse than any other lads or girls group chat” and “Read some of my chats from home. This is literally nothing” are a great example of how normalized these attitudes between young people are. In fact, he is possibly right. Out there, even in our own University, there must be hundreds of group chats in which, at some point, these bad-taste comments were made by its members. However, the fact that is normalized -or at least, common- does not mean they should not be severely punished. It was the University’s responsibility to set a disciplinary example, and they failed at doing so when they decided to be lenient. 

On the other hand, we should reflect upon the coverage given by some media outlets to this case, especially regarding the privacy of those involved. It is definitely arguable whether the identity of this students should have been exposed or not. What is the reason to do it? I personally do not consider it to be on the public interest, and the impact it is going to have in their future lives is immeasurable. Being expelled from University is already enough punishment, the public shaming beyond that is somewhat unacceptable. We all have the right to second chances in life, and by exposing their names and faces, these young boys might have been sentenced forever beyond what was necessary by people who were not entitled to do so. 

Regardless of your opinion about it, it is undoubtedly a case worth reflecting upon. It does not matter whether you are a feminist or not, if you believe we live in a rape culture or not. It should teach us all that we are ultimately responsible for our own actions and what we do today without much consideration can have a great impact in our future.