Updated: April 3, 2021 9:28:36 pm
Over the past week, some of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious private schools have been contending with a recent flurry of allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and assault shared anonymously on a website called ‘Everyone’s Invited’. With well over 8,000 such incidents reported in school’s across the country, the UK police is set to launch an investigation into the matter.
Some of the country’s oldest and most revered independent schools — including Eton, Latymer Upper School, and Wellington — were named on the site, launched by Soma Sara, a student at University College London and a survivor of sexual harassment. The aim of her website is to expose the extent and severity of “rape culture” in the UK’s schools and universities.
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Calling the allegations “shocking and abhorrent”, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that authorities would soon “take appropriate action”. “No school — whether an independent school or state school — should ever be an environment where young people feel unsafe, let alone somewhere that sexual abuse can take place,” Williamson tweeted.
What is rape culture?
Rape culture is a concept that refers to an environment where rape and sexual violence against women is normalised due to pre-existing societal attitudes and beliefs about gender and sexuality. It is often justified further by warped depictions of sexual assault and male-female relations in the media and popular culture.
The ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website includes a separate section defining rape culture. “Rape culture exists when thoughts, behaviours, & attitudes in a society or environment have the effect of normalising and trivialising sexual violence,” it states.
“When behaviours like ‘upskirting’ or the nonconsensual sharing of intimate photos are normalised this acts as a gateway to criminal acts such as sexual assault and rape. Behaviours such as misogyny, slut shaming, victim blaming, and sexual harassment create an environment where sexual violence and abuse can exist and thrive. All behaviours, attitudes, thoughts and experiences in this culture are interconnected.”
What is ‘Everyone’s Invited’?
The ‘Everyone’s Invited’ platform was launched by 22-year-old activist and college student Soma Sara in 2020. It aims to eradicate ‘rape culture’, by providing survivors of sexual abuse with a forum where they can anonymously share their experiences of harassment, abuse, misogny and assault. While a vast majority of the stories were shared by students of some of the UK’s most prestigious private schools, several others detailed incidents that took place in public places or within families.
Sara started the website soon after sharing her personal account of sexual harassment on Instagram. After hearing back from hundreds of women with similar stories, the UCL student decided to launch the platform to address the issue of blatant misogyny and rape culture on UK campuses. The website also provides survivors with resources to deal with trauma, as well as helpline numbers for them to report the incident.
The horrific first-person testimonies, some of which were written by minors as young as nine, catalogued detailed accounts of rape and sexual harassment by young men in UK schools. In their posts, young girls recounted a range of traumatic experiences — ranging from their intimate photographs being circulated without their consent, to being drugged and raped at parties.
“When we narrow our focus on a school, a demographic, or as an individual, we risk making these cases seem like anomalies. But this isn’t rare, it happens all the time,” Sara wrote in Britain’s I newspaper. “When we direct the blame onto a person or place we are undermining the most important message: rape culture is everywhere. And because it’s everywhere it affects everyone.”
But what has led to the recent spate of sexual assault allegations?
The recent flurry of sexual harassment allegations from schools and universities across the UK comes weeks after the disappearance and death of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive from South London, and the arrest of a police officer accused of murdering her. The incident sparked a national outcry in the United Kingdom over violence against women.
What has the response been?
Several schools, mentioned in some of the accounts shared on ‘Everyone’s Welcome’, have launched investigations. The UK government has directed an education body to conduct an immediate review of safeguarding policies in public and private schools, the New York Times reported.
According to the Department of Education, all criminal allegations will soon be investigated and a helpline will be launched for survivors of sexual assault and abuse.
Some of the schools named in the allegations have also witnessed protests by students. At Dulwich College in London, students were warned that they could face fines if they participated in a protest advertised as a “demonstration against the predatory culture of Dulwich College and the school management [that] condones it,” the Guardian reported.
At Highgate, another public school, pupils walked out of class earlier this week following allegations of sexual abuse on campus.
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