A young Liberal party staffer claims she was raped in a minister’s office by a ‘rising star’ colleague after a boozy night out.
Brittany Higgins was 24 years old when she was allegedly raped by a colleague inside Parliament House in March 2019.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison publicly responded to the sexual assault allegations during Parliament Question Time on Monday – saying Ms Higgins should be listened to and respected.
‘Everyone should feel safe in their workplace, wherever that is. Reports today are deeply distressing. This matter is under consideration by police,’ he said.
The incident allegedly happened after Ms Higgins and her colleagues had a boozy night out.
She told news.com.au that she remembers the man buying several rounds of drinks.
When she announced she was leaving, he offered to get a cab with her because he was heading in the same direction, she said.
Brittany Higgins, then 24, has alleged she was raped by a colleague inside Parliament House in March 2019
But instead of dropping her home, the man allegedly took her to Parliament House.
Ms Higgins said they went to Senator Reynolds’ office where she, intoxicated, fell asleep on the couch.
The 24-year-old said she woke up to the man raping her and begged him to stop but he carried on.
‘I woke up mid-rape. I told him to stop. I was crying. He wasn’t even looking at me. It felt like I was sort of a body that was there. It didn’t feel like it was anything about me,’ Ms Higgins told news.com.au.
She said the man left the building, leaving her to be discovered by security guards in the cocktail dress the next morning.
The man then resigned the next day for being in the office after hours.
Ms Higgins initially reported the incident to the Australian Federal Police but decided not to make a formal complaint, fearing that she would jeopardise her job.
She said decided to speak out after being inspired by women’s campaigner and Australian of the Year winner Grace Tame.
Ms Higgins’ boss Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, summoned her to a formal employment meeting about the incident in the same room the alleged rape occurred.
Senator Reynolds says she did not know the alleged incident happened in her office at the time of the meeting.
‘Of course I’m aware of today’s reports, and I’m extremely concerned about the wellbeing of my former staff member. Women should be safe,’ she told parliament on Monday.
‘At the time of my initial meeting with the staff member I was not aware of the details or the circumstance of the alleged incident in my office. Had I known, I would have conducted the meeting elsewhere.’
Questions have now been raised about whether Senator Reynolds should apologise for her handling of the allegations.
Questions have now been raised about whether Senator Reynolds (left in right image) should apologise for her handling of Ms Higgins’ allegations
Health Minister Greg Hunt declined to answer whether Senator Reynolds should apologise, saying the matter was sensitive and he did not have all of the details.
‘And given the potentially criminal nature of this issue, it’s not appropriate for me to be commenting,’ he told reporters in Canberra.
Labor is calling on Senator Reynolds to publicly explain the circumstances around her handling of the rape allegations.
Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally said the minister needed to explain whether the allegations had been properly investigated, and whether there were security issues about staff accessing her office out of hours.
‘There are questions about whether or not this young woman was pressured to choose between her job and reporting the matter to police,’ Senator Keneally said.
Ms Higgins pictured with former Liberal Party deputy leader Julie Bishop
‘I don’t care what side of politics you are on, there is no place for that kind of assault and attack in a workplace or in this parliament.’
Mr Morrison said at all times, guidance was sought from Ms Higgins about how she wishes to proceed with the allegations.
‘This important best practice principle of empowering Ms Higgins is something the government always sought to follow in relation to this matter,’ he said.
‘The government has aimed to provide Ms Higgins with her agency, to provide support to make decisions in her interests and to respect her privacy.
‘This offer of support and assistance continues. It is important that Ms Higgins’ views are listened to and respected.’
Liberal MP Jason Falinksi praised Ms Higgins for speaking out.
‘Assault of any sort, but sexual assault in particular, is just unbelievable. Ms Higgins is incredibly brave for speaking out and we should all respect that,’ he said.
Labor MP Peta Murphy told parliament there needed to be an independent review of the treatment of female employees in Parliament House, and an independent office established to provide advice and counselling.