[TW: Contains references to rape] Thousands of current and former students are speaking out about the sexual harassment, assaults and abuse that they've experienced while studying, to highlight how deeply embedded and commonplace rape culture is within UK schools, colleges and universities.
Testimonies range from allegations of rape being poorly handled by their school (or hushed up), to accounts of being inappropriately touched on public transport while wearing a school uniform, to the issue of revenge porn not being properly tackled. Many of the stories highlight a lack of robust sex education within schools and a need for there to be discussions around consent.
One popular and pivotal Instagram account and website, Everyone's Invited, which was created last June for survivors to anonymously share their stories, has been spearheading the conversation. Its founder, Soma Sara, says it's seen an influx of stories shared following the tragic death of Sarah Everard (over 5,000 submissions over a two-week period), which placed the conversation of women's safety at the forefront.
Sara, who started the Everyone's Invited initiative after sharing her own story of being raped on social media, says that certain behaviours within an educational setting have been normalised, leading perpetrators to commit more serious crimes in future – and all of this has a long-lasting and damaging impact on survivors, the majority of whom are female.
"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," the Everyone's Invited website reads.
Sara recently told The Guardian that the issue is widespread throughout the country and stressed the importance of focussing on both public and private schools when discussing sexual violence.
"This is not just an issue in private schools but, it is every school, every day," she explained, adding that the staggering number of young women who've submitted testimonies to Everyone's Invited is making it harder for their experiences to be "pushed aside, ignore[d] and trivialised".
Detective Superintendent Mel Laremore told the BBC that more than 100 institutions have been named and declared it was "a national issue" across all schools.
"We're still looking into the exact scope of how wide this spreads but certainly I know there's already over 100 schools cited on the website which do reach out to national parameters," she said during an interview with the Today programme.
Laremore also gave a statement reminding victims that it's never too late to come forward, "We take all allegations of sexual assault very seriously. Regardless of how long ago an offence took place, I would like to remind any victim-survivor that support is available for you should you wish to speak to us."
To get help with any of the issues discussed in this article, visit: Rape Crisis England & Wales, Rape Crisis Scotland, or The Rowan (for Northern Ireland). RASASC provides emotional and practical support for survivors, families and friends. For additional support with mental health, visit Mind.
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