Australia

Brittany Higgins to pursue police investigation into rape allegations against a colleague

A formal Liberal Party staffer plans to pursue a police investigation into allegations of rape against a colleague.

Brittany Higgins alleges she was sexually assaulted by a male colleague in the office of then-Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds after a night out in 2019.

Ms Higgins decided not to pursue a police complaint at the time because she felt pressure that doing so would affect her employment.

She has since resigned from her job in government and plans to reinstate the police complaint.

She also plans to initiate a formal complaint with the Department of Finance, which handles work-related ministerial staff complaints.

Senior members of the federal government, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, have publicly responded to allegations a former Liberal Party staffer was raped in a ministerial office at Parliament House.

Brittany Higgins was 24 years old when she was allegedly raped by a colleague at Parliament House in March 2019, news.com.au reported on Monday.

She was working for Defence Minister Linda Reynolds at the time and says she chose not to make a complaint to police for fear of her career.

Mr Morrison on Monday called the reports “deeply distressing” when questioned about the government’s response to the alleged incident.

“My government takes all matters of workplace safety very, very seriously,” he told parliament.

“At all times guidance was sought from Ms Higgins as to how she wished to proceed and to support and rest her decisions. 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.”

Senator Linda Reynolds in the Senate on Monday.

AAP

The alleged incident occurred on a couch in Senator Reynolds’ office after a night of drinking with colleagues at an event in Canberra.

Ms Higgins told news.com.au she was “very intoxicated” when it was suggested she take a taxi with the co-worker to drop her home.

Ms Higgins said the co-worker instead took her to Parliament House where she fell asleep in Senator Reynolds’ office. She alleges when she woke the colleague was having sex with her without her consent.

During her interview with The Project, Ms Higgins said she had “started that night with a different date” and “invited him in a professional context”.

“I don’t know if he guided there or I went there myself, buy I ended up lying down and passing out on the ministers couch,” Ms Higgins said.

“The first thing that sort of awoke me, is that I was in pain, my leg was being crushed, the senior staffer was on top of me… I woke up mid-rape essentially. I don’t know why I knew he was almost finished, but I knew this had been going on for a while.”

Ms Higgins said she “told him to stop half a dozen times” and that she was “crying the whole way through it”.

“He didn’t speak to me the entire time, eventually he just stopped and he got up. He looked at me and I looked at him and then he just left.”

Ms Higgins said she then told the chief of staff.

“It felt like immediately it became a political problem, it wasn’t a staffing problem, it wasn’t a human problem, it was like we have an issue,” she said.

Senator Reynolds went on to summon Ms Higgins to a formal employment meeting about the alleged incident in the same room it allegedly occurred.

Senator Reynolds said on Monday she was “extremely concerned” about the wellbeing of her former staff member.

“I was at pains to ensure that my staff member felt empowered to determine how she wanted to handle the matter and that remains the case,” she told the Senate.

“At the time of my initial meeting with my staff member I was not aware of the details or the circumstances of the alleged incident in my office. Had I known, I would have conducted the meeting elsewhere.”

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office said Ms Higgins was told if she did choose to pursue a complaint, including with police, she would have the support of the Office and the Minister.

“She was informed that she would be assisted and supported through that process,” the spokesperson said, adding that “consideration should have been made” to the location of Senator Reynolds’ meeting with Ms Higgins, “and in hindsight that oversight is regretted”.

The alleged incident has again raised concerns over the treatment of women inside Parliament House.

Labor is calling on Senator Reynolds to publicly explain the circumstances around her handling of the allegations.

“There are questions about whether or not this young woman was pressured to choose between her job and reporting the matter to police,”  opposition home affairs spokesperson Kristina Keneally said. 

“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.”

A spokesperson for ACT Policing said it had received a report into the alleged assault but had not taken the matter further.

“ACT Policing investigators subsequently spoke to the complainant who chose not to proceed with making a formal complaint,” they said.

“ACT Policing’s investigation remains open but did not progress at that time as a result.”

Dhanya Mani – a former NSW Liberal staffer who levelled assault allegations against a Liberal staffer in a separate incident – said she was not surprised to hear about Ms Higgins’ alleged experience.

“These issues occur in parliament, because there is an imbalance of power,” she told SBS News.

“There is no power and support afforded to women who are vulnerable and in positions where they can be exploited by men.”

– Additional reporting by AAP.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, you can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

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