Staring at her laptop screen, 21-year-old Soma Sara surveyed her work.
With a backdrop of duelling shades of blue, the wording of her newly built website was simple: ‘A place for survivors to share their stories’.
Then, in a slightly smaller font below: ‘Everyone’s Invited’s mission is to expose and eradicate rape culture with empathy, compassion, and understanding’.
Back then, in the summer of 2020, the third year University College London student had no clue the impact her site would have – she just knew it needed to be made.
She also had no idea that in just two years, over 50,000 people would log their harrowing, sometimes life changing experiences, of sexual wrong-doing.
Nor could the young woman ever have estimated just how many schools and universities would be called out for such shocking behaviour.
Speaking to Metro.co.uk about how her website came to fruition, Soma, now 23 and living in London, explains that it was inspired by ‘many conversations with friends about our experiences during our time at school and university.’
‘We began to realise that incidents of sexual harassment and violence were not rare but very much entrenched into our day to day lives.
‘A culture of harassment and misogyny was normalised and many felt unable to share and report these experiences to the adults in our lives.
Soma Sara set up Everyone’s Invited in June 2020 (Picture: by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
‘We didn’t have the confidence or language to effectively challenge what was happening to us at the time,’ Soma adds, recalling how she realised then that it fell to her to be proactive about tackling the issue.
When Everyone’s Invited went live in June 2020, it invited survivors of abuse, or subjects of everyday rape culture, to talk about their experiences anonymously. Having somewhere to share their story but not identity was something that Soma believes empowered contributors, often acting as a source of relief – and ultimately providing a ‘feeling of community and hope’.
With additional pages offering contact details of important sources, like charities and helplines, it meant that survivors were able to to seek help, too.
‘These experiences might not have been shared before because of the stigma that shrouds sexual violence,’ explains Soma. ‘Many victims struggle to speak out and when they do they are too often invalidated, not believed and shamed.
‘I’ve learnt about the power of stories to trigger urgent conversations that pave the way for meaningful change. I’ve also learnt about the importance of empathy in supporting survivors and endeavouring to connect to and reach those who don’t want to confront the scale of sexual violence and abuse in society.’
Another facet to the site are in-depth and digestible educational guides, which ask questions such as: ‘What is rape culture?’ and ‘What is consent?’, in efforts to continue the conversation amongst both students, and adults.
For Soma, it was imperative to create a place where everyone is invited to be part of the conversation, seeking guidance, or education, or to share their story and seek catharsis.
Two years on from it’s inception, the website is run full-time by Soma along with 27 volunteers and a board of trustees as a UK-registered charity.
At present, there have been over 54,000 anonymous experiences registered on the website (Picture: Getty Images)
‘I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to change their behaviour,’ she explains. ‘Everyone has a role to play and a responsibility and it’s about trying to trigger a collateral change and that involves everyone.
‘It’s going to take so much and so many people to make things better,’ she adds.
At present, there have been over 54,000 anonymous experiences registered – and counting.
‘Our testimonies range from catcalling and sexist remarks, to violent and dangerous behaviour such as paedophilia and forced physical rape,’ the website claims.
It’s also home to a shocking, ever-growing 108-page document that lists the names of countless schools – including primary schools – in England which have been mentioned within survivor testimonies, exposing the rife nature of rape culture.
One of these schools is Eton College, Windsor, once attended by Boris Johnson, David Cameron, and royals Prince William and Harry.
Eton is named alongside Queen Elizabeth’s School, Barnet, crowned State Secondary School of the year in 2021 by The Sunday Times; as well as St. Paul’s Girls School, London, also feted by the Sunday Times as England’s Top Independent Secondary School.
‘It proves that this is happening in all schools,’ Soma says. ‘All of which have a responsibility to address these issues and do everything they can to tackle the perverse problem of rape culture.
‘The testimonies document how many young people have been failed by the structures and staff in place that should be safeguarding their well-being, safety and human rights.’
Of course, such claims have not gone unnoticed. Though Soma told us that Everyone’s Invited has been subject to no legal proceedings from parents, or educational institutions, there is no doubt the site ruffled feathers.
‘All schools should do everything they can to tackle the perverse problem of rape culture,’ says Soma (Picture: Getty Images/EyeEm)
‘We have had push back and backlash from schools and parents, particularly mothers of boys,’ Soma admits. ‘Some schools have contacted Everyone’s Invited and we were disappointed with their focus on reputation over endeavouring to address the pervasive issues and cultures at their school.
‘When the reputation of institutions trumps the wellbeing, safety and rights of children and young people, priorities are devastatingly misaligned.’
But it’s not just schools in the crossfire. Everyone’s Invited also names 185 universities.
Even the elite aren’t immune, with both the coveted University of Cambridge, and the University of Oxford – as well as the University of St. Andrews and the London School of Economics – being named and shamed. These are the top four ranked universities in the UK.
In total, a shocking 8,397 UK schools and universities have been logged by Everyone’s Invited (that’s nearly a quarter of all educational institutions in the UK) – including 69% of all secondary schools and over half of all universities.
According to Soma, children should be learning about consent from an early age (Picture: Tolga Akmen / AFP via Getty Images)
However, not all are necessarily facilities that have failed their students. A side note from the website states: ‘If a school or university is mentioned in an Everyone’s Invited testimony, it could be the institution of the victim or the perpetrator/s. Sometimes when submitting, survivors will write their own school/university as well as that of the perpetrators.’
In addition, it’s also worth noting that the schools and universities listed are only ones that have been mentioned by survivors who have been brave enough to share their testimonies. ‘It’s everywhere, whether it’s on the list or not as it’s endemic throughout all of society,’ Soma tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Twelve year olds will have seen porn before they learn about sex in school. It’s about parents educating their children, who should be developing in them a sense of empathy and respect and boundaries from a young age.
‘Sex education should be as serious as Maths and English,’ she adds. ‘They should be learning from them about the concept of consent really young. They need to be talking about pornography and rape culture as ultimately young people are being exposed to this really young and porn is where they learn about sex.’
The facts about rape culture
As of June 2021, rape accounted for 37% of all sexual offences recorded by the police – and last December, the highest number of rape cases ever were reported by the police – around 67,000.
Shockingly, one in four women have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult, compared to one in six children and one in 20 men – that’s five million women in England and Wales.
Five in six rapes against women are at the hands of someone they know – but only one in 100 are reported to the police. Why? Well nearly half claim it would be ‘embarrassing’, with 34% thinking it would be ‘humiliating’.
For information and support contact Rape Crisis England and Wales here, Rape Crisis Scotland here, and Rape Crisis Northern Ireland here.
In response to Everyone’s Invited’s damning report, some of the institutions included as a hotspot of sexual assault responded to the scandal. The prominent London private school, Dulwich College, was the first school to refer a number of sexual assault cases to the Metropolitan Police – but, after the force assessed evidence, no further action was taken.
At the time, a spokesperson for Eton College said it took allegations ‘extremely seriously’ and would report it ‘when necessary.’
One of the most mentioned schools on the list at the time, Latymer Upper School, announced that it was ‘deeply disturbed’ and had a ‘zero-tolerance approach to behaviours that foster the prevalence of misogyny, sexism, harassment, abuse and assault.’
In April 2021, Ofsted was even asked by the government to undertake a rapid review of sexual abuse of schools – the first of its kind.
At the time, Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said: ‘Like so many others, I have been deeply troubled by the allegations of sexual abuse posted on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website.
‘Many of the testimonies reveal that girls have not felt able to report incidents of sexual abuse to their schools,’ she went on. ‘Schools play a vital part in promoting a culture of respect among young people – including between boys and girls. We will consider how schools can support and encourage appropriate behaviour, from the lessons in the classroom to the culture in the corridors.’
In April 2021, Ofsted was asked by the government to undertake a rapid review of sexual abuse of schools – the first of its kind. (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The schools inspectorate visited 32 schools and colleges that were highlighted, speaking to over 900 children and young people, reporting that ‘sexual harassment occurs so frequently that it has become ‘commonplace’.
It was revealed that 92% of girls, and 74% of boys stated that sexist name-calling happened a lot or sometimes to them or their peers.
‘The frequency of these harmful sexual behaviours means that some children and young people consider them normal,’ Ofsted added. ‘The issues are so widespread that they need addressing for all children and young people.’
However, sexual harassment and abuse doesn’t just affect students. Shockingly, one in 10 members of college and university staff admitted to having experienced workplace sexual violence in the past five years, according to a recent University and College Union (UCU) survey.
Additionally, the findings revealed that sexual violence was an ongoing pattern of behaviour rather than a one-off incident for 70% of those who experienced it.
The report concluded that universities weren’t taking the issue of sexual violence seriously; and had a ‘culture of protecting predators’, with ‘shocking levels of institutional failure,’ as well as ‘inappropriate and inconsistent support’ given to survivors – if indeed given at all.’
It’s an issue highlighted recently by Stella Creasy MP, when she revealed that she was threatened with gang-rape and sexual harassment while at Cambridge University. Creasy claims that her harassers are now ‘high flyers’ who have gone on to become doctors and civil servants.
Labour MP Stella Creasey has spoken out about her own experience of sexual harassment at university (Picture: Nicola Tree/ Getty Images)
The Labour MP also stated that she was reprimanded by University authorities instead of action being taken against the men involved.
According to Rape Crisis, nine in 10 girls and young women in schools claim that sexist name-calling and the receipt of unwanted sexualised pictures happens to them and other girls their age at school.
Meanwhile, a survey conducted by Everyone’s Invited in March 2021, revealed that around 36% of respondents claimed that teachers were ‘Not supportive at all’ or ‘Did nothing’ when they were told about incidents of rape culture in their school.
It solidifies the UCU’s findings that a number of educational institutions seem to ‘protect’ abusers, withholding access to vital services for survivors and therefore acting as a breeding ground for potential predators.
Rachel*, a graduate from one of the top universities in the UK, tells Metro.co.uk that her university ‘couldn’t have seemed to care less’ when a member of the campus staff, her ex-boyfriend, began coercing Rachel to have sex with her. ‘I was in an abusive (financially and emotionally) relationship with a man for two years.
‘Unbeknown to me – and something he’d adamantly put down to as the ‘crazy ex’ – he had a long history of violence and sexual abuse of other women,’ she says. ‘I’d been raped a few months before we got together, something he knew, and I think he used this against me.
‘When we broke up, three women contacted me to say he’d sexually, physically, and emotionally abused them. He confessed in writing to this, both to me and other women.’
‘Naming and shaming these institutions seems to be the only way to get accountability’ (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
It took Rachel’s university eight months for them to begin an investigation, ‘despite having supplied numerous rape admissions’ that she has since gained from the perpetrator.
‘His housemate also took out a counter complaint against me for ‘defamation’, which was escalated before mine despite having filed mine first,’ she adds. ‘The other two girls who filed complaints [against him] had to wait over a year to hear back, even though they were the rape victims.’
Since then, Rachel’s university ‘still admits no fault’.
‘They refuse to answer my difficult questions and I’ve sought legal advice, all of which says they grossly mishandled this case given the irrefutable evidence against him,’ she explains. ‘I think they’ve offered little support to the police, even though he admitted formally to the university about being abusive and sexually violent in each complaint filed against him, so he wasn’t even denying it.
‘Everyone I know who knows that university knows what it did to me and countless other women, and it’s been a serious deterrent for people deciding to apply now.
‘Naming and shaming these institutions seems to be the only way to get accountability,’ Rachel insists. ‘Universities need more pastoral intervention – some kind of Ofsted for how they care for students.
‘They cannot be trusted to keep themselves accountable. Until this sort of action is taken, I think universities will continue to bury these cases for the sake of good PR.’
In its 2021 report on rape culture at universities, the UCU stated that: ‘The prevention and resolution of sexual violence should be treated as a health and safety matter by universities and colleges’ with counselling in place for those directly impacted.
‘Continued reports of widespread sexual violence on our campuses and brave testimony from survivors should ring in the ears of college and university leaders who have stood by and continued to allow sexual violence to become endemic across the education sector,’ UCU general secretary Jo Grady tells Metro.co.uk.
More: Sexual Violence
‘Now is the time for university and college employers to work closely with staff and students – to eradicate the scourge of sexual violence on campus once and for all, and create a sector that is safe, inclusive and prevents harm.’
As for the future of Everyone’s Invited, Soma tells us that her site and its team remain intent on focusing on ‘solutions’ rather than throwing up problems.
‘‘Our mission is to expose and eradicate rape culture with empathy, compassion and understanding,’ she says.
And, as the website states, everyone’s invited.
*Name has been changed
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
Share your views in the comments below.
READ NEWS SOURCE
The post Two years ago a website exposed the shocking level of rape culture in schools and uni – but did it really change anything? appeared first on thewashingtondigest.com.