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Everyone’s Invited founder Soma Sara: ‘We are all victims’

Soma Sara, founder and CEO of Everyone’s Invited, spoke to The Tab about rape culture, radical empathy, and staying in control of the narrative


CN: Mentions of rape, rape culture and sexual assault

In 2021, in the midst of the first lockdown, Soma Sara began to reflect on the experiences of sexual harassment, bullying, unwanted advances and sexual abuse that permeated the adolescent experiences of her and her friends. She described experiencing a “constant pressure that wasn’t visible” to engage in sex acts.

These reflections prompted her to start a platform, Everyone’s Invited, where survivors could share their stories. This project received massive media attention, propelling Sara into the limelight and creating difficult but important conversations in schools across the country. Since then her company has continued to grow and develop, with a focus on education and combatting the stigma that still surrounds discussions of rape culture.

Rape culture 

Sara acknowledges that the term “rape culture” can make people uncomfortable. She said it was a constant part of her company’s discussion over the best use of language. “I think the word culture is really important”, as she argued it makes it clear this is not just a case of ‘bad apples’: “it’s been a quite powerful word in showing that this is everyone’s responsibility.”

Soma believes that the term “rape culture” exposes the “cognitive dissonance” at the heart of our society. “People don’t want to believe that rape is normalised in society. But then when you look at all the facts and the stats and the evidence. It is.” As a society, we want to believe that rape is taboo, that it is abhorred by all but in reality “rape and violence are totally normalised in the porn we watch and the language that we use”; rape culture is “so deeply embedded in all of our systems and structures. It’s like staring you in the face.”

Image credits: Eliana Dyer-Fernandes at The Cambridge Union

Media narratives

She expressed some frustration about the media response to Everyone’s Invited focusing on the elite nature of some of the schools that formed the bulk of the initial testimonies. She notes that it is clear that “power and privilege” plays a role in these conversations. However, “it is just really important to acknowledge that this is happening everywhere, in all kinds of schools, not just private elite schools. Because when you frame it in that way, you’re basically minimising the problem.” She emphasises the universality of rape culture: “I feel like saying it’s only those schools is doing a disservice to all survivors who’ve experienced sexual violence from all kinds of backgrounds and different places in the country as well.”

She expressed some frustration about the media response to Everyone’s Invited focusing on the elite nature of some of the schools that formed the bulk of the initial testimonies. She notes that it is clear that “power and privilege” plays a role in these conversations. However, “it is just really important to acknowledge that this is happening everywhere, in all kinds of schools, not just private elite schools. Because when you frame it in that way, you’re basically minimising the problem.” She emphasises the universality of rape culture: “I feel like saying it’s only those schools is doing a disservice to all survivors who’ve experienced sexual violence from all kinds of backgrounds and different places in the country as well.”

The ideas of “radical empathy and compassion at every level” are central to Sara’s messaging. “We’ve been on the receiving end of quite fierce criticism from our own community for encouraging empathy for all, including men and boys.” But she sees radical empathy as incredibly important.

“I know it’s controversial to say that, but men and boys were socialised and indoctrinated in a culture that normalises violence against women and a lot of the behaviour was so subconscious, they didn’t necessarily always know that they were doing the wrong thing.” Coming to terms with the trauma and pain caused by their behaviour can, Sara notes, be a “horrific ordeal”.

In a way, Sara thinks “we are all victims” of rape culture. “That’s not to take away from the plight of survivors but it’s important to acknowledge”. Including men in the conversation is crucial. “Ultimately, we believe in reconciliation and trying to create a compassionate world. Nothing will change unless men and boys are also part of this discussion, and part of this change.”

Image credits: Eliana Dyer-Fernandes at The Cambridge Union

Education and inclusivity

Sara puts huge importance on the inclusivity of language as part of her company’s ethos is about “bring[ing] people into the conversation.” This aim translates across to their education programme in schools. “It’s about trying to make them each individually and collectively feel involved in the discussion and feel like they’re able to engage.” One of the formats that accomplish this aim is a conversation session: “Although we’re guiding them on discussions […] we’re really also encouraging them to speak and share their views, but also to listen to each other.”

Rape culture, and the tackling of the structural issues of misogyny “needs to be discussions that are had in the open, not buried and silenced. […] And you know, it’s just so sad and horrific to kind of realise how myself and so many of my peers had suffered and so much shame and silence in having these experiences as teenagers. “

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