It has become an all too familiar story.
A private moment. A photo snapped, then shared. The consequences greater than anyone imagined.
Last fall, such a story unfolded in Howe Hall, one of the co-ed residences at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
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A female student stumbled upon it as she was scrolling through a friend’s Instagram account in October. Hanna spotted the name “The Dal Jungle” tagged on her friend’s page.
“I decided to click on the link, thinking, ‘Hey, I’ve never seen this account before. That’s weird,’” said the woman, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.
When Hanna sent a request to follow the account, she received a message stating that only men were permitted to follow it. So, she asked a couple of male friends what the page was all about.
“And they’re just like, ‘Well, obviously girls can’t follow that. There’s pictures of my dick on there,’” one told her.
When she pressed her friends for more details, one of them showed her a photo that had been posted to the Dal Jungle page.
The photo showed a female student giving oral sex to a male student. Another male student, the one who allegedly took and posted the photo online, also appeared in the picture, taking a smiling selfie with the couple visible in the frame. A third man was also in the picture, but his face was not visible, Hanna said.
When Hanna’s friend showed her the photo, he covered the face of the woman in the picture with his thumb. The woman’s breasts were visible in the picture.
A friend later showed Hanna a handful of other photos that had been posted to the Dal Jungle account. Mostly, she says, they were pictures of guys doing “naked, drunk, stupid shit.”
One was of a couple having sex, but Hanna was unsure whether the photo had been taken or posted with consent. Another was of a male student sitting naked on his bed with his legs in the air and a pillow covering his crotch. A fourth photo showed several clothed students playing beer pong.
Hanna first saw the photo of students having oral sex in October, the week after homecoming. Not long afterward, she was chatting with a friend, and it became clear that it was her friend in the photo.
“I’m like, ‘Wait. Shit. I’ve seen a picture of this.’”
Her friend, who Hanna says was just shy of her 18th birthday when the photo was taken at the beginning of the school year, didn’t know it had been posted online. The friend was “very upset” but didn’t want to pursue the issue.
“She just wanted it to go away,” Hanna said.
She later saw the photo again — including the face of the female student — and confirmed that it was her friend.
“I was then caught between crosshairs of, ‘What do I do? Do I say something? Or do I stay quiet?’”
Initially, she stayed quiet. But on Halloween night, Hanna was confiding in a female residence assistant about other issues and told her about the Instagram account. That residence assistant brought the issue to residence life manager Dean Martin. Martin deferred comment on this story to Dalhousie University’s communications team.
The campus security team and other residence staff investigated, interviewing about 30 students, Hanna said. Campus security did not return phone calls from The Chronicle Herald.
“I had told them I just wanted the Instagram account down and that I knew these boys were apologetic and that they’d learned their lesson,” Hanna said. “I didn’t want there to be long-term implications for them.”
Although Hanna believes the student who took and posted the oral sex photo should have been kicked out of school, she didn’t want the others to face serious consequences.
“Most of the guys who were following this account were not bad boys,” she said. “They just were following this account because they were friends with these guys and they had nothing to do with it.”
She estimates there were about 50 followers of the Dal Jungle account.
Four male students were kicked out of residence in mid-November, Hanna said, and a fifth was kicked out about a week later. The male student who was receiving oral sex in the photo was moved to a different residence.
A second student source confirmed to The Chronicle Herald that the “users” of the Instagram page are no longer living in Howe Hall.
About 15 students were also banned from drinking alcohol as a result of the investigation, Hanna said, adding that none were expelled.
Zane Robison, the executive director of student life at Dalhousie, confirmed that an Instagram account with “inappropriate content” was brought to the attention of a residence assistant by a student on Nov. 1. The residence assistant informed the residence life manager, and residence staff and campus security investigated, he said.
Citing privacy concerns, Robison said he could not comment on the specifics of the investigation, including the content of the Instagram page, whether the students consented to having the material posted, or how many students were involved. None of the university’s investigators saw the Instagram page, he said.
Dalhousie reported the account to Instagram during the first week of November, and the page was deactivated shortly afterward.
Although Dalhousie initially would not comment on what sort of discipline was doled out, the university released a statement on its website on Saturday confirming that “a number” of students were evicted from Howe Hall as a result of the investigation.
Robison would not confirm how many students were disciplined over the matter, or what form any discipline took, saying only that the university took “immediate and appropriate action under the residence life handbook.” Disciplinary options under that handbook range from behavioural contracts to eviction, he said.
Asked whether the behaviour of those involved with the account violated other university policies, such as the code of student conduct, and whether some students should have faced consequences under those policies, Robison repeated that he couldn’t give details of the investigation.
“Generally, when things happen within residence, it stays within the code that the first course of action is to deal with the behaviour within the residence handbook. And that’s what we did,” he said.
“We felt it was dealt with appropriately through the residence handbook.”
He added that all the students involved were offered a meeting with staff in the counselling and psychological services department, and the human rights, equity and harassment prevention office.
Dalhousie referred the matter to Halifax Regional Police, and officers met with campus security on Nov. 13 to discuss the matter.
Police spokesman Const. Pierre Bourdages said if photos are posted without consent, it could be a crime.
Photos of people under the age of 18 engaged in a sex act are considered child pornography. Sexually explicit photos distributed without consent could violate Bill C-13, a new federal law that came into place on March 9. The Protecting Canadians From Online Crime Act prohibits the distribution of what it calls “intimate images.”
Cases of child pornography can be investigated and result in charges without the co-operation of the victim. But for cases in which the victim is 18 or older, the victim’s co-operation is required for an investigation to proceed.
“The individual involved in that incident did not wish any police involvement,” Bourdages said of the Dalhousie case.
“With the information we received, there’s no grounds for a police investigation.”
Hanna maintains that her friend was 17 at the time the photo was taken. Bourdages said the information police received about the case did not warrant a child pornography investigation.
Asked whether police checked the alleged victim’s birth certificate to verify her age, he said, “I cannot tell you anything more than what I just told you.”
The woman in the photo did not respond to an interview request.
Hanna says since she brought the Instagram account to the attention of the university, she has been socially ostracized by many in residence.
“I was taught from a young age to always do the right thing and that doing the right thing would always benefit you in life,” she said.
“But in this situation, it tore my life to shreds and completely ruined me and made my life a living hell in residence, because I couldn’t do anything or go anywhere without having people look at me and just give me that look of pure hatred.
“I’m still being tormented about this. It’s not letting me go.”
Hanna’s mother said she doesn’t believe the university handled the case well.
“The manner in which my daughter has handled this situation makes me very proud. In spite of the harassment she has been subjected to, she continued with her studies,” she said.
“To say that I’m extremely disappointed with the way the administration at Dalhousie handled my daughter’s revelations and subsequent situation would be a vast understatement. My daughter chose to make a responsible decision. The institution’s response to the situation has been anything but responsible.
“To me, Dalhousie is more concerned with their reputation than with the welfare of those who have been victimized.”