“It exists everywhere”: New anti-rape movement Everyone’s Invited exposes rape culture in UK education

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#MeToo. #TimesUp. Now, Everyone’s Invited.

Rape culture is a normalised part of everyday life, for both men and women, either as perpetrators, colluders, or victims.

Everyone’s Invited is an anti-rape movement organisation based in the UK, focused on exposing rape culture through “conversation, education and support.” Their website for reporting incidents of rape, sexual harassment and assault was established in June 2020 by Soma Sara, at the time an English student at University College London.

Soma’s experience of rape culture began in her early teenage years. Conversations with friends throughout her time at school and university began to reveal to her just how widespread the issue is for young people. While finishing her degree at UCL, she began sharing her experiences of rape culture on Instagram.

In light of the overwhelming response from those that resonated with her story, Soma founded Everyone’s Invited, a space created for survivors to share their stories. Since March of this year, over 15,000 anonymous testimonies have been submitted and shared on the site, sparking a conversation about rape culture among millions.

In the wake of the Sarah Everard case, testaments of survivors have flooded the website. At the time of writing, the number of testimonies totalled 15,643, naming more than 80 UK universities – including Lancaster University.

In an interview with The Evening Standard, Soma Sara explicitly states that, “this is a culture that has existed forever.”

How many times did you awkwardly hug a boy you didn’t really want to?

How did it feel when a girl you were friends with made you do something you didn’t want to?

How many times did you say no?

We are all guilty to some extent when it comes to perpetrating issues of sexual violence and harassment, whether it’s as someone who covered up a report, didn’t believe a victim, or committed any one of a number of atrocious acts.

These issues, whilst they stem from a lack of education for both genders with regards to sexual misconduct and how to report it, comes more prominently from the society we live in and how we are conditioned to react to such harsh realities.

In an open letter published on the Everyone’s Invited website, welcoming visitors to the site, it states that:

“Much of the behaviour described within these testimonies is the product of a culture that normalises and trivialises these actions. Growing up, we were socialised to believe that this behaviour was acceptable. Now, having read the testimonies everyone can understand the profound weight of everyone’s actions.”

The thousands upon thousands of testimonies are horrifying, revealing an endemic of sexual abuse, silenced and scared victims, and a corrupt system that has prioritised reputation over the investigation of serious sexual allegations.

Along with the shocking reality of sexual abuse in education, Everyone’s Invited and the conversations that are being conducted as a result are exposing the shocking gap in teaching young people about proper sexual education.

Whilst some young people learn what it means to have ‘safe sex’ with no unwanted consequences, I feel that what is being revealed through Everyone’s Invited reinforces the idea that we are not properly taught what it means to have ‘safe relationships’ and what constitutes sexual harassment and toxic relationships.

To me, abuse meant physical violence and controlling behaviour. To me, harassment was someone following you down the street or catcalling you from a car.

I didn’t realise abuse is the sickening anxiety after you spill a drink in a pub while you’re out with your boyfriend, only for him to get mad. I didn’t realise harassment was holding your hips to move you out of the way or receiving unwanted ‘compliments’ from men calling you beautiful.

There are many remedies that need to be made in public education. This is something I noticed at high school, sixth form, and now university. The glaring gap in discussions on sex and relationships is destructive and needs to be fixed.

Under the pressure of anti-rape activism, the government has now ordered an immediate review and a helpline to aid those in need. The helpline will be run by the NSPCC to both support potential victims and provide advice to children and adults. Ofsted will also be looking at safeguarding in both state and independent schools.

Unfortunately, the reality of sexual abuse is one that has been so normalised for all of those involved and these testimonies, whilst vile, are not surprising. Every girl I know has a story like these ones. Of course, it’s not just women, but we consistently form the majority and that’s the problem.

There is nothing more influential than peer on peer normalisation, says Soma Sara. It’s time this toxic attitude was eradicated. It takes immense courage for victims of abuse to come forward but to be met with slut-shaming, victim-blaming, and disbelief is damning.

Governments and universities are now sitting up and starting to revise their methods for dealing with issues of sexual abuse.

The OfS has published a statement of expectations, which outlines the “practical steps” universities and colleges should take to tackle harassment and sexual misconduct. 

Universities should:

  • have processes in place to allow students to report and disclose any incidents.
  • work to minimise potential barriers to reporting and disclosing.
  • ensure investigatory procedures are fair and independent, and that those involved get effective pastoral support.
  • set out behavioural expectations for all students, staff, and visitors.

If you have experienced sexual misconduct or been affected by anything in this article, please contact your college wellbeing officer or get in touch with the Everyone’s Invited helpline: 0800 136 663.

If you have experienced sexual misconduct at Lancaster University, you can report this via the iLancaster app, under the Unisafe option. Alternatively, find more information here.

“Everyone is invited to this discussion.”

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