Alleged victim of rape in Australian Parliament House testifies in court
A government staffer testified on Wednesday that she was raped by a colleague in the Australian Parliament House and described her fears of not being believed because of the disparity in their workplace statuses.
Brittany Higgins became the first witness to testify against Bruce Lehrmann, 27, who has pleaded not guilty in the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent in a minister’s office in March 2019. He faces a potential 12-year prison sentence if convicted.
Ms Higgins said she was a 24-year-old staffer in an administrative role in then-Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds’ office while Mr Lehrmann had a more senior role as a ministerial adviser.
The pair had gone back to Parliament House early one Saturday morning after a night of heavy drinking with colleagues. Ms Higgins said she thought Mr Lehrmann wanted to collect documents from Ms Reynolds’ office, where she fell asleep on a couch and was awoken by Mr Lehrmann raping her.
Ms Higgins said she felt “trapped, not human” as Mr Lehrmann hovered over her, grunting and making noise. She said she started crying and told him to stop but he continued.
Ms Higgins decided to have Mr Lehrmann charged last year and the jury on Wednesday heard her video-recorded police interview from February 2021.
She told police that when she returned to work on Monday, two days after the alleged rape, she feared she would be fired because her and Mr Lehrmann entering the minister’s office was flagged as a security breach.
“I knew what had happened to me was wrong, I knew I hadn’t consented,” she said.
She told police she didn’t think anyone would believe her story and figured Mr Lehrmann’s words carried more weight than hers because of his more senior role.
“He was in the office on Monday… He didn’t seem ashamed (or) upset,” Ms Higgins said. “It just didn’t feel like something he wanted to address.”
She told police when she identified the incident as a sexual assault to her former chief of staff, “the gears shifted”.
“It became less about me and more political, in a sense,” she said.
Defence lawyer Steven Whybrow told the jury Ms Higgins’ allegations had not been tested or proven and Mr Lehrmann denied having sex with her.
Prosecutor Shane Drumgold flagged more than 50 witnesses who could be called to give evidence during the trial, which is expected to last between four and six weeks.
Among the witnesses are Ms Reynolds as well as former government ministers Michaelia Cash and Steven Ciobo.
The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but Ms Higgins has chosen to identify herself in the media.
The best videos delivered daily
Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox