Soma Sara: Dismantling the 'pervasive reality' of rape culture that's starting in our schools

Soma Sara, the founder of Everyone's Invited. Credit: Everyone's Invited
  • Report by ITV News Digital Journalist Jocelyn Evans

In June last year Soma Sara shared on Instagram her experience of rape culture, in her own words "it snowballed from there".

Having received an overwhelming response to her post, Soma wanted to "create a permanent platform for survivors to share their stories" and so Everyone's Invited was founded.

In less than 12 months, the movement has gained a following of more than 25,000 people and shared the testimonials of thousands.

It is those testimonials that make sobering reading for anyone in any doubt that sexual violence, in all its forms, is not pervasive in our society.

Women and girls, some sharing experiences from when they were barely teenagers, recount how they faced abuse, harassment, coercive control - the list goes on.

The page features the experiences of men too, though these make up a lot fewer of the testimonials, and the team have someone focused specifically on LGBT+ specific content.

The perpetrators are never named, but increasingly the testimonials name the school or college where the incident took place - forcing some of the country's oldest institutions to confront their own role in this culture.

"We've had a cathartic and emotional response," Soma tells me.

"We’ve had huge amounts of people messaging us saying how incredible and important it was for them to be able to share this trauma and normalise speaking about rape and rape culture and shedding light and awareness on it."

"The testimonials are a comprehensive education - it’s harrowing and terribly sad."

Part of the challenge, Soma says, is that "we’re trying to educate not just our generation, but our parents’ generation and the older generations too."

I asked the 22-year-old what's the one thing people can do to start educating themselves, and be proactive: "First and foremost is to try and understand and educate yourself about this issue - read the testimonies.

"Parents, teachers, boys, girls. It’s a lack of understanding that can help perpetuate the issue. It’s so important that parents can have these conversations with their children.

"We need to empower people to be able to talk about this issue."

Part of that empowerment, Soma says, is an overhaul of the way sex education is taught in schools. She says a far more comprehensive programme is needed, one that includes teaching about rape culture and issues of consent.

"Students need to gain the ability to have the language to call out these issues in real life and challenge the culture," she says.

"It really starts from the beginning - are they being taught about consent? Empathy? Boundaries? It’s all very much interconnected."

So what then has been the response of schools - many of them London's most elite, including St Paul's, King's College, Westminster, and Eton among others?

Everyone's Invited has resources available to students, including a template letter, to send to their school raising concerns about "the perpetuation of rape culture".

Having seen replies from some institutions, Soma says the response has been "overwhelmingly positive" with a recognition of the issue and an admission "they need to do better".

Following a week in which all of us - including politicians, the media, and police - have had to face up to the reality of the threat of violence women face, it was empowering to hear Soma speak.

Everyone's Invited is founded and run by young people, a grassroots movement sharing the experiences of young people in an attempt to expose an established reality.

"This is a widespread, endemic issue. It’s not about one environment, or demographic or school," says Soma.

"This is so deeply ingrained in our culture, people really need to understand that if we’re going to be able to dismantle it. 

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this article please take a look at Everyone's Invited 'Find Help' page here: