Earlier this year, a website called Everyone's Invited gained national attention when it started posting anonymous testimonies of sexual violence in schools. Within days, some of the country's most prestigious institutions had stories of sexual harassment between students covered in the newspapers, groups of students wrote open letters to Head Teachers and several schools instigated independent reviews into their own safeguarding practices. What does the Everyone's Invited campaign tell us about changing attitudes to sexual harassment, the reporting of complaints and the use of media (and social media) campaigns to raise attention?
It is tempting to see Everyone's Invited as a continuation of the #MeToo movement which commenced in Hollywood following allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein and spread through workplaces across the world. However, the nature of the concerns with Everyone's Invited is different. #MeToo tended to concentrate on the behaviour of men in positions of power, who utilised that power to sexually harass women. The alleged perpetrators of harmful behaviour in most of the Everyone's Invited testimonies were not people in power, but fellow students. The criticism of authorities, such as schools, was that they had allowed, and allegedly condoned, a culture that fostered harmful behaviour. The campaign explicitly drew a link between the culture of the student body and the responsibilities of school leadership not to condone or tolerate low level, cultural behaviour.
The campaign successfully used a combination of website, social media and mainstream media tools to get widespread attention and try to affect change. The drip, drip effect of publishing testimonies one by one kept the issue in the news for weeks and led to some schools taking proactive action before any testimonies mentioned them. Everyone's Invited was not, however, the only campaign of this type during the past year, and similar tactics have been used to target specific schools or workplaces. See, for example, the very effective campaign launched by employees of BrewDog.
Finally, Everyone's Invited highlights some of the challenges faced by today's teenagers and young adults. A rapid review by school's inspectorate, Ofsted, concluded that responsible adults (teachers, school leaders and parents) have very little insight into the pressures faced by young people in 2021. The prevalence of online pornography, the ease with which nude photographs can be taken and shared, a highly sexualised online culture and the growing influence of online misogynistic communities are combining to make a uniquely challenging environment for young people.
As the teenagers and young people of the Everyone's Invited generation start to enter the workplace, the lessons of the campaign ring clear. Employers cannot afford to be complacent about the culture fostered within their organisations; young people have made it clear that they expect people in authority to make cultural expectations clear and will hold them to account if the culture fosters harmful behaviour. Meanwhile, social media campaigns and open letters can quickly turn a small matter in one workplace into national headlines.