In 2020, 22-year-old Soma Sara launched Everyone’s Invited, an online platform that allows people to share testimonies of sexual abuse, assault and harassment. She started this initiative after she shared her own story on Instagram and received over 300 responses from people who also had experiences with sexual abuse. Since the launch, almost 15,000 testimonies have been collected on the website.
Soma Sara told the BBC:
The testimonies expose rape culture and the scale of sexual violence amongst young people in the UK.
Aside from being a space where people can share their stories anonymously, Everyone's Invited is also a movement that is ‘committed to eradicating rape culture.’ According to the platform, rape culture is prevalent in all parts of the society through normalised behaviours and actions like nonconsensual sharing of private photos, slut shaming, victim blaming, and sexual harassment. When these acts go unnoticed, it then has the potential to snowball into even more aggressive forms of sexual violence like assault and rape. So, the movement has been working towards giving victims a voice, and educating communities about rape culture in the UK.
The testimonials have revealed that many of these acts are taking place in what is supposed to be ‘safe spaces’ like schools, and universities. So far, a total of 84 British institutions have been named, including private schools and top universities like University of Oxford, Exeter, King’s College London, and London School of Economics. Representatives from these institutions have spoken up, saying that they will be taking serious action to make sure their students feel safe. A spokesperson for the Russell Group said:
No student should feel unsafe or have to tolerate harassment or sexual misconduct in any circumstance. Our universities take this issue incredibly seriously and provide a range of support to help students feel supported and safe.
Where a crime has been committed it should be reported to the police. The testimonies highlighted via the Everyone's Invited website show the need for us all to take this issue seriously.
Though many elite schools and universities were called out on the website, Sara believes that the issue is much larger than that. She explained:
If we start pointing fingers at certain demographics or singling out individuals or institutions, we risk making these cases seem like anomalies... when really this problem is pervasive, it exists everywhere.
In response to the increasing number of testimonies on the website, the government launched a school helpline two weeks ago. The helpline will offer support to victims of sexual abuse, harassment and assault. Furthermore, it also helps them to report crimes and contact the police, if and when they decide to do so. The helpline is open to children, adults, parents and professionals.
Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson said:
Sexual abuse in any form is abhorrent and it is vital that these allegations are dealt with properly.
While the majority of schools take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously, I am determined to make sure the right resources and processes are in place across the education system to support any victims of abuse to come forward.
The decision was a huge win for the Sara's team, and step in the right direction. Wendy Mair from Everyone's Invited said:
We are encouraged to see that the government has responded and taken the first initial steps to review rape culture in all schools.