Tackling Rape Culture At UK Universities
A new website has brought to light the intrusive rape culture at some of the UK’s leading educational establishments.
The full scope of rape culture is only just being revealed. After Soma Sara set up Everyone's Invited in June 2020, survivors flocked to the website to share their experiences of rape culture. Since then, over 16,500 survivor testimonies have been published on the website and the community comprises over 45,500 members.
With new testimonies regularly being published, the website has quickly become a beacon of strength and defiance against a rape culture that has embedded itself among the elite institutes of higher education in the UK. Yet, Everyone’s Invited also serves to highlight a systemic issue in these institutions. To that end, it is essential that this opportunity provided by Everyone’s Invited is used to enforce lasting change that will shape generations to come.
What is rape culture?
When it comes to understanding rape culture, there is the potential for it to be misunderstood as solely encompassing rape. However, rape culture entails the normalisation of sexually aggressive and exploitative behaviour, including sexist and derogatory comments. All of these behaviours have the effect of demeaning and degrading women.
However, there is the further effect of creating doubt and ambiguity around the distinction between rape and consent. The blame is transferred onto women through the distorted notion that the woman was ‘asking for it’ or that they have somehow provoked the rape. Without this being addressed, rape culture is not only tolerated but also cultivated. The sense of blame and responsibility is bestowed upon the wrong people, namely the survivor rather than the perpetrator.
The presence of rape culture can also lead to a form of toxic masculinity being incubated in modern society. Toxic masculinity and rape culture go hand in hand to the extent that ignoring the presence of rape culture allows toxic masculinity to build roots in society. Toxic masculinity evidences itself in the form of aggressive behaviour, heterosexism and emotional insensitivity.
In contrast to rape culture, toxic masculinity and its manifestations are often tolerated or overlooked through platitudes such as ‘boys will be boys’. To that end, there has arisen a considerable discrepancy when it comes to societal appreciation of these two features. However, the arrival of Everyone’s Invited is bringing this discrepancy to the fore.
What has happened?
Despite the launch of the site coming in June 2020, it was not until March 2021 that Everyone’s Invited truly peaked public attention when they released a list of universities at which the incidents had taken place. The testimonies themselves are shocking in what they reveal about the experiences of the survivors. However, what appeared to bring this into the mainstream news cycle was the fact that the testimonies named the institutions which their abusers attended.
Knowing that the abusers were students at some of the country’s leading academic. Furthermore, certain names appeared with alarming frequency, further highlighting the pervasive presence of rape culture in certain institutions. In total, more than 80 universities in the UK were named. Of particular note was the fact that there more than 50 mentions for each of The University of Oxford, University College London (UCL) and The University of Exeter.
These revelations sent waves through the community of higher education as they called into question universities’ ability to protect their students. In the aftermath of the release of the list, the universities named hurried to release statements, defending how they deal with allegations of sexual assault. The common thread was that the universities looked to stress their desire to protect their students and encourage them to come forward to report abuse. Yet, this does not address the problem at its core. Indeed, Soma remarked that the intention behind releasing the list was to change a culture and encourage universities to take a “survivor focused” approach to dealing with reports of sexual assault
However, it was not just UK universities that were singled out for having a rape culture. Indeed, a number of leading private schools found themselves named as institutions where some of the perpetrators had attended. Among those mentioned were Eton College, St Paul’s, Westminster, Harrow, Kings College School and Latymer Upper School, although the full list is much longer. If the issue of rape culture and toxic masculinity was considered widespread with just the release of the list of universities, then the news that it extended into schools truly revealed the full extent of the problem, with much younger individuals being both perpetrators and victims.
In response to news that their students were involved, St Paul’s stated that they were taking these allegations extremely seriously and condemned all of the actions described. Similar statements were also released by Eton and Latymer. Given that this is all quite so fresh, it is challenging for the schools and also the universities to issue anything other than a statement. However, the schools are perhaps best placed going forward to be able to implement lasting cultural change. In their statement, St Paul’s divulged that they planned to review their teaching on relationships and consent with the hope of hastening this cultural change.
Actions such as those being taken by St Paul’s are promising step towards eradicating rape culture. As with many problems which are deeply rooted in institutions, remedying it requires it to be addressed at the earliest possible stage. Yet, Everyone’s Invited has revealed quite how extensive the issue of rape culture in institutes of higher education is. Overcoming it will take time but it is essential that this moment is used as a launchpad for creating a meaningful cultural change.
Written by James Hingley
James Hingley is a columnist at DecipherGrey.
Photograph: Chase Carter |Flickr.com