The Brittany Higgins case put intense pressure for years over several cases that have shed a harsh light on the sexism of Australia’s political culture and sparked protests across the country with tens of thousands of people in mid-March. It all began in 2021 when a former government employee went public with her rape story. Here’s how one story led to a large voice for gender equality, and against violence and sexual harassment.
The Brittany Higgins Story From 2019 to 2022: Where Is She Now?
Brittany Higgins in 2019:
Government worker Brittany Higgins is raped by Attorney General Christian Porter after a drunken night out in 2019. She was raped in the office of then Defense Industry Minister Linda Reynolds in 2019. Linda Reynolds was not supportive of Higgins at all.
‘I was raped inside Parliament by a colleague and for so long I felt like people around me didn’t care what happened because of what it could mean to them,” Higgins said.
“It was so confusing because these people were my idols. I had dedicated my life to them. It was my social network, my colleagues and my family. Suddenly they treated me differently. I was not a person who had just undergone many changes, I was a political problem”, she continued.
Higgins said she was unable to find work and her partner quit her job in Canberra after the story broke, blaming it on fear of repercussions. It had been “extremely difficult weeks,” she said. She said she woke up to daily updates with new information about her own alleged experience. “Details that were never disclosed to me by my employers, information that would have helped me like questions that have haunted me for years”.
“I watched the Australian Prime Minister publicly apologize to me through the media, while the private media team actively undermined and discredited my loved ones,” Higgins said.
Higgins continued, “I went to Question Time to see my old bosses, the people I had dedicated my life to, downplaying my lived experience”.
Ms Higgins initially chose not to press charges over the rape allegation, fearing it could impact her career.
But after she did, almost 4 victims came forward including a now-deceased woman’s allegation that she was raped by Attorney General Christian Porter in 1988 – a claim he has vigorously denied.
The #March4Justice protests would follow later in 2021, despite the pandemic.
Brittany Higgins in 2021:
On February 15, 2021, Brittany Higgins alleged that she was raped by a male colleague in Defense Minister Linda Reynolds’ cabinet in March 2019. At the time of the assault, Higgins claims she felt compelled to choose between her career and reporting the allegation to the police.
By February 22, 2021 the line of women accusing Brittany Higgins’s rapist grew to 4!
The fourth woman came forward to allege she was also sexually assaulted by the same political staffer accused of raping Brittany Higgins inside Parliament. The last woman to share her account earlier told the ABC that the same former Liberal Party staffer who allegedly raped Ms Higgins went under the table to fondle her thigh at a Canberra bar in 2017.
She filed a report at a Canberra police station and will make an official statement later this week. Two other women – a Liberal employee and a former party volunteer – also claimed to have been sexually assaulted by him.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Senator Reynolds continue to debate who knew what, when it comes to their response to Ms Higgins’ complaint.
The rape allegation prompted Mr Morrison to announce a series of inquiries into workplace culture in Canberra and the series of allegations had increased pressure on the federal government.
Unsurprisingly, Attorney General Christian Porter who allegedly committed the atrocities on Brittany Higgins was not a one time offender. He was used to raping women.
Four other women accused the same man of sexually assaulting them. These are just some of the many stories shared in the wake of Brittany Higgins’ allegations.
Two Australian government heavyweights were removed from their posts and demoted in the executive hierarchy in March 2021 after resounding rape accusations that forced Prime Minister Scott Morrison to reshuffle.
Defense Minister Linda Reynolds and Attorney General Christian Porter, who was the government’s chief legal adviser, have both been replaced, Scott Morrison announced.
The Aussie PM also announced the promotion of several women within his own government, saying his new team was the one with “the strongest representation of women” in the history of the Australian executive.
First there were accusations from Brittany Higgins and then by early March, Christian Porter was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl with whom he was studying in 1988. The latter died last year. He vigorously contested these charges.
The two ministers had been on sick leave for several weeks, and the Prime Minister assured them that they would resume their duties. They have been maintained in government, but demoted: Linda Reynolds takes over the portfolio of government services, and Christian Porter that of Industry, Science and Technology.
March 15th Rally:
The subject of an ongoing police investigation back in March 2021, Brittany Higgins’ voice shook as she addressed the crowd outside Parliament in Canberra.
She had decided at the last minute to speak to more than a thousand people, mostly women, holding signs calling for justice for women, for survivors of sexual assault and for Higgins herself, who claimed being raped by a colleague inside Parliament.
March organizers carried a petition signed by nearly 70,000 people calling for action to better protect women from abuse and harassment. They wanted to introduce him to the Prime Minister but Scott Morrison refused to meet them. He proposed a meeting in his office, which was refused.
It was in April 2021 when Brittany’s news that she was raped in 2019 (by a colleague in the office in parliament of Linda Reynolds, who at the time was defense industry minister), went extremely viral! People were on the streets protesting sexual assault cases all over Australia!
An Australian man received a summons to court in a rape case that took place in Parliament, which sparked a wave of protests in the country against sexual violence in March 2021.
The 26-year-old is due to appear in court in September for the charges dating back to 2019 , as part of a subpoena issued to his lawyers, police in the capital, Canberra, said in a statement.
“Police suspect that the man had sex with a woman without her consent in the parliament building,” the statement said.
After Brittany Higgins claimed in April 2019 that she was raped by a colleague in a minister’s office in Parliament, after a drunken evening with other Liberal Party colleagues, her testimony led to a series of accusations that cast a harsh light on sexism.
It also shone a light on the place of women in Australian politics. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in mid-March 2021 in the country for gender equality, and against violence and sexual harassment.
Speaking to a crowd in Canberra in 2021, Brittany Higgins said her story was a “painful reminder to women that this can happen in Parliament, and anywhere else”.
“We realize that the system is fundamentally flawed, the glass ceiling still exists and there are serious flaws in the power structure within our institutions,” she continued.
Brittany Higgins in February 2022:
Almost a year after Brittany Higgins came forward with her story, justice was almost served as the Australian parliament made a formal apology to rape accuser: Brittany Higgins.
“I am sorry, we are sorry. I am sorry to Ms. Higgins for the terrible things that took place here. The place that should have been a place for safety, that turned out to be a nightmare,” Mr. Morrison, the Australian PM stated in a formal apology.
What happened between Brittany Higgins and Linda Reynolds?
Brittany Higgins is out of a job and nearly broke, but she’s donating her damages from Linda Reynolds to a sexual assault support organization. She received a settlement from the Australian senator Linda Reynolds for calling her derogatory names and for the scandal she put Brittany Higgins through.
Higgins’ rape claim speaks volumes about the potential for sexist and victim-blaming attitudes towards sexual assault allegations – as she was made to feel ostracized by the same people who unquestionably owed her support, empathy and kindness. A major player was Minister of Defense Linda Reynolds.
“[Higgins] found herself barred from traveling with [Minister Reynolds] or attending events with her, an arrangement which made [Higgins’] job as a media adviser untenable”, and the young political aide was forced to look for a job in another ministerial office, as reported by the ABC.
Minister of Defense Linda Reynolds was under deep investigation as well during February 2021. Especially after Brittany Higgins sharply criticized Senator Reynolds for avoiding questions in Parliament by citing his “private life” as an excuse to justify his actions.
Senator Reynolds had earlier repeated her claim that she had never spoken to the Prime Minister’s Office about the alleged rape saying it was ‘not her story to tell’.
“It was not my story to tell and at all times I took my example from Brittany Higgins,” she told the Senate. “I have always, and continue to, respect her privacy and her story”.
“My privacy has been violated at every turn of this process,” Ms Higgins said.
‘I don’t think she ever respected my privacy, so her sudden concern for it now I find patently false.
She added that she would have no problem with Senator Reynolds speaking freely about how the matter was handled.
Why did the Brittany Higgins case lead to protests despite the pandemic?
Australia as a whole was rocked by allegations made by Brittany Higgins (among others) – but for Australian women, the reality of sexual assault has been a sensitive issue.
Brittany Higgin’s rape case sparked an explosive backlash towards the treatment of women in Parliament. The breach of duty of care in her case is appalling, especially as she continued to work for the government for the next two years. Higgins’ allegations may have been unprecedented to the public, but the story is not unknown to most Australian women. After the allegations surfaced in Canberra, there was an outpouring of support in the Australian media, sparking a conversation about the nation’s attitudes towards sexism and sexual assault.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s response to the allegations has been widely criticized by the media, as well as by Higgins herself and Australian of the Year, sexual assault victim advocate and bonafide icon Grace Tame. His now infamous invocation of his wife and daughters when referring to Brittany Higgins’ allegations was roasted by the public – speaking to the wider cultural norm of assigning the objectifying label of “wife, daughter, sister” to a woman who was sexually assaulted, in order to believe her story.
The 1988 sexual assault allegation against is another case that has angered the Australian public– at first, an unnamed senior civil servant, who has now introduced himself as Christian Porter, Attorney General of Australia. He has vehemently denied the charges and is now suing the ABC company for defamation. Due to the fact that the key witness took his own life in mid-2020, just one day after he withdrew his claim from the Australian Federal Police investigation, criminal proceedings against Porter’s allegation are not possible. That’s why people rallied for Scott Morrison to institute an independent investigation – which Christian Porter believes would have the potential to exonerate him completely and cement his fitness for office.
Within professional associations, businesses and government departments independent investigations are frequently conducted when allegations of sexual harassment or bullying are made – so it is not unusual for an investigation to be instituted in such cases. “Legal and business experts said there was no ‘rule of law’ issue with Attorney General Christian Porter facing an independent investigation [into the 1988 assault allegation] “, according to a report from the Guardian.
Unfortunately, Scott Morrison’s response was disappointing (again). He clearly rejected calls for an independent inquiry on the grounds that it involves the “rule of law and [the] police are not competent to deal with these matters.” As Australian Prime Minister, despite his resources and authority to order an inquiry of this nature, his resounding denial hits hard.
The Independent Inquiry process is as much a symbolic gesture as it is a fight for justice. Despite the outcome of the investigation, it’s likely won’t result in convictions for Porter — because it can never be investigated as a criminal case.
Women need to know that the judiciary, the Prime Minister and the Australian government take allegations of sexual assault seriously enough to warrant a fair judicial investigation. Otherwise, we might as well continue to silence the victims. By blaming women for heinous violations inflicted on their bodies and lives, instead of holding men accountable; constantly perpetuating this toxic and shameful cycle of victim shaming.
Inspired by the Canberra allegations, the March 4 Women ‘s Justice rallies have erupted across the country to protest against sexism, misogyny, domestic violence and sexual violence against women. The Sydney gathering was granted a COVID-19 public health order exemption which allowed 1,500 people to gather in groups of 500, provided they followed all health and safety precautions.