A Sydney private school prefect has urged his fellow students to change their attitudes towards women after a petition among female students revealed horrific allegations of sexual abuse.
Year 12 Cranbrook student Asher Learmonth spoke before his fellow senior school students at the $38,862-a-year private school at assembly on Wednesday, telling them they need to identify and change their sexist attitudes towards women.
“Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t make excuses,” he told the students.
“Instead, identify this sexist and reductive attitude within yourself, within the boys you go out with. Change the way you view women.”
His comments came after an online campaign gathered hundreds of anonymous testimonies by women detailing sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by school boys around Australia.
Chanel Contos, the former Kambala student who started the petition, said she hoped to bring about change in how consent is taught to schoolchildren.
“It shouldn’t be about (girls) going to the police, my point is the boys should be educated to know in the first place that it’s not the right thing to do. Because I don’t think they are,” she told the Today show.
She said she and her female peers were educated in year 10 on what consent means. But by then, it was too late, she said.
“Even though that consent talk was great, it happened too late. Me and a lot of my friends walked out of that room with the heavy realisation that we had actually (previously) been sexually abused.
“It’s just shocking to think that it’s something that we just think is normal, we think it just happens to us and we think it’s a normal part of growing up, because no one tells us otherwise. It’s a criminal offence.”
An online document collecting the testimonies Ms Contos has been sent has grown to 70 pages.
It contains story after story of girls and women being coerced into sex, taken advantage of when they were too drunk to consent, and sexually mistreated in myriad ways.
Though by no means the only school singled out in the allegations, Cranbrook is mentioned in dozens of the stories.
“Our school features heavily … too heavily … once again,” Asher Learmonth said in the speech.
He urged his fellow students to stop thinking of women as sexual objects and instead try to connect with them on a human level.
“Boys, and sadly it should go without saying – women are just as interesting as you, just as smart, just as funny, have just as many insights, are just as impressive, are just as good value. You don’t need a sister or mother to understand this,” he said.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said she was distressed to hear the women’s stories collected by Ms Contos.
“It has been very distressing to hear the accounts this week from young women who have spoken about their experiences with consent and sexual assault. I admire their bravery,” she said.
“Their actions have led to important and meaningful discussions around what needs to improve, both in school contexts and more broadly within society.
She said there were support systems in place for victims of sexual assault, and mandatory reporting requirements which teachers were trained in. Year 11 and 12 students at government schools also undertake a course addressing issues of consent, she said.
“Schools are a safe place for all students, and public schools have a robust and rigorous reporting structure when it comes to matters relating to sexual assault,” Ms Mitchell said.