Brittany Higgins, the former Liberal party staffer who came forward with allegations of rape and sparked a huge outpouring of rage in the process, delivered a powerful speech at the Women’s March 4 Justice in Canberra.
“We are all here today not because we want to be here, because we have to be here,” she told the crowd.
“We are here because it is unfathomable that we are still having to fight this same stale, tired fight.”
Higgins said she had watched her story play out in the media since going public almost a month ago, checking the news at 5am to learn what else had been made public.
“I was waking up to new information about my own sexual assault through the media,” she said.
Higgins, who wore all-white in an apparent nod to the suffragette movement, earned huge applauses, speaking for the first time since going public with her allegations.
A huge part why #march4justice is happening is the courage of Brittany Higgins – a young woman that party machinery &parliamentary culture tried to exploit and silence – speaking truth to power.
We won’t meet with the PM in her alleged crime scene. He can come to us, and listen.
— Sally Rugg (@sallyrugg) March 14, 2021
She said she went public with her story because to stay silent would to be “complicit”, and was speaking for all those who either chose not to go public, or where unable to.
Higgins going public sparked an outpouring of rage, as well as shining a light on a Parliament House culture where an alleged sexual assault was treated as a PR issue. Since she spoke up, an independent inquiry into the workplace culture at Parliament House has been announced, even as historic allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter have been made public. (Porter has denied the allegations and launched legal action against the ABC, which broke the story.)
You can – and should – read Brittany Higgins’ speech in full below.
“I speak to you today out of necessity. We are all here today not because we want to be here, because we have to be here. We fundamentally recognise the system is broken, the glass ceiling is still in place, and there are significant failings in the power structures within our institution. We are here because it is unfathomable that we are still having to fight this same stale, tired fight.
“As it has been said before, time can be used constructively or destructively. Human progress rarely rolls on inevitability. It is through dedication and effort that we move forward. When we fall asleep at the wheel, what has to happen is that tide becomes an ally of those who seek stagnation. We regress.
“It is the custodians of the status quo keeping the existing order a live. To see a real progress, we must seek it out.
“I am cognisant of all the women who continue to live in silence. The women who are faceless. The women who don’t have the mobility, the confidence, or the financial means to share their truth. Those who don’t see their images and stories reflected in their media, those who are sadly no longer with us. Those who have lost their sense of self-worth and are unable to break the silence, all of which is rooted in the shame and stigma of sexual assault.
“One out of every five women in Australia will be sexually assaulted or raped in their lifetime, if you are a woman of colour the statistics are even higher.
“Thanks to Chanel Contos when our know [widespread this] sort of behaviour is our school. There is a confronting sense of finality about sexual violence in our community.
“I was raped inside Parliament House by a colleague, and for so long it felt like the people around me neither cared because of what happened for what it might mean for them. It was so confusing because these people were my idols. I had dedicated my life to them. They were my social network, colleagues, and my family. And suddenly they treated me differently.
“I was not a person who had just gone through a lot of changes event, I was a political problem. Amanda Vanstone, a former Liberal minister, summed it up the other day: If there was a young girl alleging she had been raped in a different office, would it be on the front page? No it would not.
“I think Miss Vanstone is missing the point. There is a horrible societal acceptance of sexual violence experienced by women in Australia. My story was on the front page for the sole reason that it was a painful reminder to women that it can happen in Parliament House, and can truly happen anywhere.
“These past few weeks on a personal level have been extremely difficult. Like many of you I have watched this all play out in the media. I watched it happen from a laptop in a spare bedroom in my dad’s apartment on the Gold Coast.
“I watched as the Prime Minister of Australia publicly apologised to me through the media, while privately the media team actively undermined and discredited my loved ones.
“I tuned into Question Time to see my former bosses, people that I had dedicated my life to, deny and downplay my lived experience. I have read the news updates every day at 5am, because I was waking up to new information about my own sexual assault through the media.
“Details that were never disclosed to me by my employers, information that would have helped me as questions that have haunted me for years. I watched as people hid behind throwaway phrases like due process and presumption of innocence while failing to acknowledge how the justice system is notoriously stacked against victims of sexual crime.
“I watched as the Prime Minister of Australia publicly apologised to me through the media, while privately the media team actively undermined and discredited my love ones.
“I tuned into Question Time to see my former bosses, people that I had dedicated my life to, deny and downplay my lived experience.
“I have read the news updates every day at 5am, because I was waking up to new information about my own sexual assault through the media. Details that were never disclosed to me by my employers, information that would have helped me as questions that have haunted me for years.
“I watched as people hid behind throwaway phrases like ‘due process’ and ‘presumption of innocence’ while failing to acknowledge how the justice system is notoriously stacked against victims of sexual crime.
“I read the advice from Defence Chief Angus Campbell who advised women on how not to fall prey to those who have the proclivity to harm others. Advice aimed solely at modifying the behaviour of victims and does nothing to address the actions of perpetrators.
“I was dismayed by senior male journalists who routinely implied that my partner was pulling the strings behind the scenes. The sudden inference being that a traumatised woman wasn’t capable of weaponising her own story.
“I watched as advocates on the macro level disappear when the issue hit too close to home at the micro level. I had think suspicions confirmed when the media exposed a long list of people who knew what had happened to me. A list that seemed to grow by the day as truths about internal reviews, Senate committee submissions, office cleans and witness accounts were all unearthed.
“These are the people making our laws in governing the country. As our leaders, they should be the exemplar – the gold standard. Sadly, this just isn’t the case.
“If they aren’t committed to addressing these issues in their own offices, what confidence can the women of Australia have that they will be proactive in addressing this issue in the broader community?
“This isn’t a political problem. This is a human problem.
“We’ve all learned over the past few weeks just how common gendered violence is in this country. It’s time our leaders on both sides of politics stop avoiding the public and side-stepping accountability. It’s time we actually address the problem.
“I decided to resign and share my story, because I felt it was the only thing that I could do to say that I didn’t co-sign this behaviour.
“That I don’t believe what happened was right. That I don’t believe a brochure is adequate support. That I don’t believe people should be isolated, intimidated and ignored after traumatic incidents inside the workplace. I came forward with my story to hopefully protect other women.
“By staying silent, I felt like it would have made me complicit, and if something of this nature had ever happened again, my ongoing silence would have inadvertently said to those people in charge that you can treat people in this way and it’s OK. I want to be clear – it’s not!
“So I have spoken out with what little I have to say this isn’t OK and they need to do better. We all need to do better.
“I encourage each and every one of you to set boundaries for yourself and be ruthless in your defence of them. Speak up. Share your truth and know that you have a generation of women ready, willing and able to support you.
“Take ownership of your story and free yourself from the stigma of shame. Together, we can bring about real, meaningful reform to the workplace culture inside Parliament House and, hopefully, every workplace, to ensure the next generation of women can benefit from a safer and more equitable Australia.”
Help is available.
If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.
If you are in distress, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat online.
If you’d like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online.
Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.
You can also reach the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or chat online.