Content warning: This article discusses confronting rape allegations.
Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins has given an emotional interview detailing the moments she was allegedly raped by a colleague at Parliament House, in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ ministerial office.
Higgins told ‘The Project’ she was weeks into a new job in Canberra as media adviser to Minister Reynolds in 2019 when a male colleague allegedly attacked her after a night out.
As first reported by news.com.au on Monday, Higgins said she was offered a lift home by a male staffer but he redirected the taxi to Parliament House where the pair went through several security checkpoints to get to Minister Reynolds’ office where Higgins fell asleep on a couch.
Higgins told ‘The Project’s’ Lisa Wilkinson that this is where the assault allegedly took place.
“The first thing that awoke me was, I was in a pain. My leg was kind of being crushed. The senior staffer was on top of me,” she said.
“I woke up mid-rape essentially. I don’t know why I knew he was almost finished but I felt like it had been going on for a while.
“I couldn’t get him off of me. At this point I started crying.”
After asking the alleged assailant to stop “at least half a dozen times”, he did not speak to her and then left the office. Higgins woke up some time later feeling “scared” that she was “at work” and left the building.
Back at work on Tuesday morning an acting manager, Fiona Brown, who later worked for the Prime Minister’s office, called Higgins and the male staffer for a joint meeting about the weekend’s “security breach”. After the meeting, Higgins told Brown about the alleged assault.
“It felt like this was immediately like a political problem,” she said, adding that Brown gave her a brochure for the employee assistance program and told her to take the afternoon off.
Higgins said the police were not immediately called because “internal mechanisms were already at play.”
“Inside of Parliament House, it’s its own unique AFP (Australian Federal Police) unit so they act independently from the ACT police and they’re a brand of the Federal Police apparently,” she said.
Higgins broke down when explaining that she was unable to access the CCTV footage of the alleged incident. Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed Tuesday the said footage is now with the police.
Days later, Minister Reynolds called a meeting in the same office where the alleged assault happened.
“It was just like a white-out in my mind because it was the first time I’d ever had to go back there,” Higgins said.
“And so between me and their table was the couch.
“I’m sure they were saying words but I barely remember a single word they said during that process because I was so cognisant of, it happened here and there was this trauma that I’d just sort of come to terms with and I just thought it was unfathomable that they’d put me in that space again.”
The alleged incident happened on March 23, 2019, weeks before Morrison called the election on April 10.
“The minister clearly didn’t want to hear about it any more,” she said.
“She didn’t broadly want to see me any more. So Fiona was the only person I could talk to and it was dismissed, it was played down and it was made to feel like it was my problem.”
After the internal investigations unit at Parliament House elevated the matter to the Australian Federal Police, Higgins gave her account of the alleged assault to the sexual crimes unit which told her it was having trouble acquiring the CCTV footage from Parliament House.
Higgins said she felt like she had to choose between her career and pursuing the matter with the police to seek justice. She was given the option to go home to the Gold Coast until the election and be paid for six weeks when her contract would be up or move to Western Australia to work for Minister Reynolds’ campaign from the WA office.
Higgins chose to stay at her “dream job” but felt the Liberal Party deliberately sent her away to WA.
“We were sort of working seven days a week. I was pretty suicidal to be honest at the time,” she said.
“Because you are just alone. It was really hard.”
Higgins said she felt pressured not to proceed the case with the police.
“There is a strange culture of silence in the parties and you just don’t,” she said.
“The idea of sort of speaking out on these sorts of issues, especially around a campaign, is just like letting the team down, you are not a team player.”
The PM’s office on Monday issued a statement describing the alleged assault as “deeply distressing”.
“It is important that Ms Higgins views are listened to and respected. The Government regrets in any way if Ms Higgins felt unsupported through this process,’’ a spokesman said.
“Reports today of an alleged sexual assault in 2019 in a Minister’s office are deeply distressing. Throughout the entire process the overriding concern for the Government was to support Ms Higgins’ welfare in whatever way possible.
“We understand this matter is under consideration by the police. This is an important step that the Government has consistently supported from the outset and we will await the outcome of this process.
“Minister Reynolds reiterated to Ms Higgins that whatever she chose to do, she would be supported. Minister Reynolds stated to Ms Higgins that her only concern was for her welfare and stated there would be no impact on her career.”
Higgins said her alleged assailant is “fine” and working in a good job.
She added: “I don’t think he’s suffered any consequences for it at all.”
You can watch the full segment on ‘The Project’ below:
In Australia, call 1800 RESPECT (737 732) for the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service.
Sexual Assault Support Services on 6231 1811, or after hours 6231 1817
Family Violence Crisis and Support Service on 1800 608 122
Bravehearts – Sexual Assault Support for Children on 1800 BRAVE 1