A young Liberal staffer has broken down in tears as she told of how she felt pressured to stay silent after being allegedly raped on Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ couch – and felt ‘alone’ and ‘suicidal’ after it happened.
Brittany Higgins, 26, opened up to The Project’s Lisa Wilkinson about what she says happened to her in Parliament House two years ago ahead of the 2019 national election.
Ms Higgins was 24 years old and in her dream job as a ministerial media adviser to Defence Minister Linda Reynolds when she was allegedly raped by a powerful senior staffer widely regarded as a ‘rising star’ in the Liberal Party.
Weeks before the 2019 Federal election, internal Parliament House police referred the alleged rape to the Australian Federal Police for investigation.
Ms Higgins said the AFP investigators couldn’t get the CCTV footage from Parliament House of the night when she and the senior staffer entered the building.
The investigation was proceeding until a few weeks before the 2019 Federal election, when Ms Higgins said she felt like she was given a choice between justice and her job.
Fiona Brown, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Scott Morrison who had been seconded to Minister Reynolds’ office as chief of staff when the male staffer left, gave her a choice, she said.
She could either go to Western Australia to be part of Minister Reynolds’ team on the other side of the country – or go home and wait out the six weeks remaining on the staffer contract to process what had happened – but she would not be coming back.
Ms Higgins broke down in tears as she spoke of the pressure she felt to choose between justice through the police or her career. She wanted to keep her dream job but was sent to WA
Ms Higgins said at that moment she realised her alleged rape was now a political issue, and her job was on the line.
She felt forced to choose between justice and her dream job – and felt pressured not to proceed with her case through the AFP, she said.
The former Parliamentary staffer broke down in tears as she told Lisa Wilkinson of her devastating choice.
‘I had worked my entire life to get here. I wanted this future. I wanted to be a part of it for my entire working life. So yeah, I went to WA,’ she said.
Brittany Higgins, then 24, has alleged she was raped by a colleague inside Parliament House in March 2019
In Western Australia Ms Higgins had no support network of friends and family.
She was suicidal and alone, working seven days a week and living out of a hotel room, she said.
‘I was pretty suicidal to be honest at the time, cause you’re just alone, it’s really hard,’ she said, brushing away tears.
Ms Higgins said she felt as though the decision to send her to the other side of the country had been intentional and that Minister Reynolds was avoiding her, despite having initially encouraged her to go to the police and report her alleged rape.
She said the culture of being a team player meant she was discouraged from going to the police for fear of letting the side down.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke words of support for Ms Higgins in Parliament, saying that at all times, guidance was sought from her about how she wanted to proceed with the allegations.
Ms Higgins said her leg was ‘crushed’ during the alleged rape and took a photo of the alleged bruise in the bathroom (pictured)
‘This important best practice principle of empowering Ms Higgins is something the government always sought to follow in relation to this matter,’ he said.
‘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. It is important that Ms Higgins’ views are listened to and respected,’ he said.
But Ms Higgins told The Project that even though she went down the ‘right path’ to report the problem, the Liberal party was not there with real support.
Questions have now been raised about whether Senator Reynolds (left in right image) should apologise for her handling of Ms Higgins’ allegations
When she started feeling panicked walking through the entrance of Parliament House, she alleged that Workplace Minister Michaelia Cash made it clear that she would have to suck it up and deal with it, or leave.
Ms Higgins had to resign in the end while her alleged rapist went on to get a great job in Sydney, she said.
She said no consequences had come to the senior staffer who she says raped her on Ms Reynolds’ ministerial couch as she lay, drunk and passed out after a night out with colleagues in the early hours of March 23, 2019.
It was less than three weeks after starting a new job in Minister Reynold’s office, and Ms Higgins had organised a Friday night drinks event with her contacts and colleagues.
The well-connected senior male staffer had been invited in a professional context.
Ms Higgins revealed that she noticed he was buying her drinks, but she had thought he was rewarding her for having done a good job organising her first after-work function in her new role.
Soon, she was inebriated.
She was so drunk that she fell over in a ‘face plant’ and decided to leave.
The male staffer offered to get a cab with her as he was heading in the same direction – but he said he needed to stop at Parliament House to pick something up, she said.
Ms Higgins described going through the back entrance to Parliament House, passing through security and riding the lift up to Defence Minister Reynolds’ suite.
Ms Higgins pictured with Senator Micahela Cash (left) former Liberal Party deputy leader Julie Bishop (right)
As the staffer was taking a long time, Ms Reynolds said she fell asleep on the couch.
The next thing she knew, she woke up being raped, she said, in pain with a sweaty senior staffer on top of her, her leg being crushed beneath his weight.
‘I don’t know why I knew he was almost finished but I felt like it had been going on for a while or that he was almost done, he was sweaty, I couldn’t get him off of me. At this point I started crying,’ she told The Project.
Ms Higgins said she told the staffer to stop at least six times but he didn’t.
Government statement on incident
A spokesman said: ‘The Government takes all matters of workplace safety very seriously. No one should feel unsafe in a workplace.
‘On Tuesday, March 26, senior staff in Minister Reynolds’ office became aware of an incident that occurred in the Minister’s office outside of work hours. This incident involved two staff. It was initially treated as a breach of the Statement of Standards for Ministerial Staff.
‘After further consultation with one of the staff members over the following days, it became clear to senior staff that there were elements of the incident that may be of a more serious nature.
‘The staff member was notified that should they choose to, they were able to pursue a complaint, including a complaint made to the police, and that to do so was within their rights. They were informed that they would be assisted and supported through that process.
‘During this process, the Minister and a senior staff member met with the staff member in the Minister’s office. Given the seriousness of the incident, the meeting should have been conducted elsewhere.’
‘The Minister encouraged the staff member to speak with the police in order to assess the options available to them. At this meeting, the staff member indicated they would like to speak to the Australian Federal Police, which the Minister supported and the office facilitated.’
Once he finished raping her, he left. Ms Higgins couldn’t get off the couch. She said she sustained a large bruise from where her rapist was pinning her down with his weight.
A security guard then came into the room but he did not call for medical help.
On Monday, Ms Higgins returned to work as did the senior staffer who allegedly raped her, and nothing happened, she said.
On Tuesday, a senior advisor to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, director of operations Fiona Brown, was seconded to the office as chief of staff, she said.
Ms Brown called in the senior staffer, Ms Higgins said, and after 45 minutes, he emerged from the meeting and began packing his things.
Ms Higgins was called in next for what started out as a disciplinary meeting for being inside Parliament House after hours.
She was told to sign the Ministerial Code of Conduct again, she said.
After Ms Higgins revealed her rape in the meeting, however, she said the tone changed from disciplinary to ‘management’ of a political threat.
Ms Higgins said Ms Brown gave her the rest of the day off and a brochure with a number for a psychologist in the employee assistance program – for which there was a two month wait.
She was interviewed by the special internal Parliament House branch of the AFP.
Ms Higgins pictured in front of Parliament House, excited that her career was blossoming
After the incident, Senator Reynolds summoned her to a formal employment meeting in the same room where the alleged rape occurred.
Ms Higgins said she couldn’t remember much that was said at that meeting as her mind blanked out and all she could focus on was the couch where the alleged rape took place, like a loop playing over and over in her mind, reliving the horror.
She said she asked for the CCTV footage showing the night she entered Parliament House with the staffer, but says they wouldn’t give it to her.
Ms Higgins said while Senator Reynolds encouraged her to go to the police, and said she would be supported, it felt insincere, like she was box-ticking for human resources.
She said Ms Brown became her only point of contact in the office that she could discuss the alleged assault with, but that the issue was down-played as if it was her issue to deal with alone – and that if she couldn’t deal with it then she should leave.
Eventually she resigned, losing her cherished career that she had worked all her life for.