The Activist Fighting To Eliminate Rape Culture In Schools
“There was a rape culture that existed where sexual violence was normalised and swept under the carpet. I just felt I had to do something about this,” says activist Soma Sara. That something is Everyone’s Invited. The online platform, founded in 2020 by the then 22-year-old, was set up as a safe space where young people, still at school or university, can share their experiences anonymously. “It all started from having conversations with friends during lockdown,” explains Sara, “and just realising how many of us had been victims of harassment, abuse and violence.”
As more accounts of sexual violence within UK-based educational establishments were shared, the platform went viral; well-respected universities such as Warwick and Exeter were among those with testimonies piling up against them, attracting the attention of the UK media. Undoubtedly, her work stirred uncomfortable but important conversations.
Concerns have been raised that the site could unfairly implicate individual boys without the right to reply and that schools can be singled out without the means to investigate anonymous claims. There’s even a suggestion that the site can negatively impact communications between boys and girls, with some boys afraid that their interactions with girls could inadvertently be stigmatised as predatory. However, Sara argues, “We have to have empathy for both sides and understand different people’s experiences.” She believes that for real change to occur, this understanding must include everyone but at times this message has been lost. Everyone’s Invited, she explains, is not about causing a war between genders. “I really wanted to interrogate and grapple with this culture and get to the root causes and, in doing so, hopefully find some solutions.”
Two years on, Sara “needed to continue the work that needed to be done”. Hence, early this autumn, the recent graduate and activist released her debut book, Everyone’s Invited. Touching on subjects that range from toxic masculinity and female beauty standards to the problems plaguing the porn industry, and naïve parents, Sara’s essays leave no stone unturned when it comes to breaking down the patriarchal structure that, in her eyes, has created a ‘rape culture’ among young people – a phrase that specifically refers to the derogatory ways that boys speak about girls; the objectification, slut-shaming and casual jokes that constitute sexual harassment.
The topic of rape culture was always going to be controversial and Sara recognises the extreme challenges that come with being one of the de facto faces of the movement. “It is psychologically exhausting to be in this kind of work; it can be incredibly tiring and emotional. Also, when you are being attacked, it comes from an incredibly personal place – most often from mothers of boys. It can be hard as you feel very exposed.”
Documentaries such as 2015’s The Hunting Ground, an exposé of sexual assault crimes on US college campuses and the cover-ups made by colleges, explicitly show this is not solely a UK-based issue. The availability of pornography, the influence of hyper-misogynistic figures such as Andrew Tate and the laissez-faire attitude taken towards the sex-ed curriculum all, arguably, contribute to a culture that promotes violence within intimacy. This is why, in 2022, Everyone’s Invited launched an educational programme to help schools tackle rape culture. From staff training to workshops on how to be an active upstander, Soma Sara and her team are devoted to creating a world where, ultimately, Everyone’s Invited has a community of zero.
Pia Brynteson is editorial assistant at Service95