A speech from a Cranbrook prefect has summed up Australia's culture around sexual assault.

This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers.

"Don't lie to yourself," Asher Learmonth told his peers. "Don't make excuses."

The head prefect at Cranbrook Senior School, a private school in Sydney's Eastern suburbs, was standing in front of a full assembly, telling his mates that they needed to change their attitudes to women. Now.

Asher was speaking after a week of scrutiny on Sydney's private boys schools. After a week where not hundreds, but thousands of woman have recalled inappropriate, sexual and predatory behaviour within the private school community.

Asher wants his peers to sit with the uncomfortable feeling that brings.

Sit with it, and change.

"As you're all aware, there is a petition going around on social media which includes the testimonies of Sydney girls who have been victims of sexual assault. Our school features heavily… too heavily… once again," Asher began his speech.

The petition, started by former Kambala Girls' School student Chanel Contos, features thousands of anonymous testimony and demands students be taught about consent earlier.

Read more: A former Sydney schoolgirl started a petition for sexual consent. 1200 students told their harrowing stories.

In his speech, Cranbrook prefect Asher acknowledged the schools had "regular, valuable and powerful talks" after consent and respect, but it was clear they had not had the intended impact.

He said he wasn't entirely sure why, but he had a message for his peers:

"I'm here to talk to you as a peer, as a mate, as a Cranbrookian, as someone who goes out with some of you boys, and someone desperate to make change. This time, I hope you will listen," he said.

"I would also like to acknowledge that there have been times when I've heard about disgusting behaviour and not done anything about it, times when I’ve tolerated boys referring to women in derogatory ways… times when I've stood by.

"However, as I've grown up, I've become a far better person and learnt from my past behaviour and made an honest attempt to fix it. I do believe that as I am now, I practise what I will preach – as so many of the boys in this room also do."

Chanel Contos. Image: Supplied.


Asher recounted times at parties, where boys would express frustration at girls 'leading them on' or turning their advances down. He spoke of a culture of entitlement, where the boys thought that because they'd spent time dancing or talking to a girl, she would be interested in 'getting with them'. But she wasn't, and she was just being nice. 

But the boys see being nice as an invitation. 

"These girls aren’t the people you’re looking to have lunch with on a Sunday, are they?" Asher said.

"They're not the ones you would want to hang out with after school like I do with my mate Lachy. You wouldn't study with them for example or play sport together, you wouldn't have dinners with their family when your parents are away. No. They're people you see once a week. From the hours of 7-11 on a Saturday night. In a completely artificial environment.

"You might have spent the Friday lunch the day before discussing which girl you wanted to hook up with and which one your mate had his eyes on. Maybe you sent the girl a text on the Saturday morning to let her know you're interested. You'd most likely go to the 'gatho' with the mindset that you're there to hook up with as many girls as you can, or maybe just the 'fittest' one... just so you could tell your mates.

"You wouldn’t care what the girl's interests were or what she was passionate about, what kind of music she liked or whether she made you laugh, because as I said, you see her once a week, you weren't looking to be her mate. 'Chicks aren't there to be your friend, they're a means to end, a conquest, another dash on your hook-up tally, the topic of a vulgar conversation on a Monday morning with the boys.'"


He said there is a culture of seeing women only as "objects of our desires, and a vehicle for validation or popularity", which led to pressuring and persuading women to do things they don't consent to.

And with all this said, Asher had one request:

"That is to properly acknowledge what I've said. I beg that you refuse to leave this gym and laugh with the mate beside you about how dumb it is that you're being spoken to, once again, about how to respect women.

"Don't let yourself agree with the bloke who at recess argues that this kind of thing doesn't occur at Cranbrook, that the girl who started the petition is some 'stupid feminist' out to ruin the reputation of our school. Don't allow yourself to slip into complacent denial by disregarding this situation as just a bunch of hysterical girls making things up or Sydney Morning Herald journalists with vendettas against private schools. Don't lie to yourself. Don't make excuses."

Instead, he called on his peers to look inward.

"Identify this sexist and reductive attitude within yourself, within the boys you go out with. Change the way you view women. Change it."

He said he hoped when this Saturday night rolled around and the students saw girls, they saw them as fully rounded human beings worthy of the same respect they afford their mates.

"Boys, 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. Women are people just like you. People to get to know. People to love. People to be friends with.

"Don't deprive them of this truth. Thank you."

And thank you, Asher.

You can read Asher's speech in full here.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

Feature image: Getty.