Brittany Higgins, the former Liberal staffer whose rape allegations sparked a national discussion about the workplace culture at Parliament House, has spoken at the women’s March 4 Justice rally in Canberra.
Ms Higgins said she was speaking at the rally out of “necessity”.
“We are all here today, not because we want to be here, because we have to be here,” she said.
“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.”
Ms Higgins alleges she was raped by a colleague inside then-defence industry minister Linda Reynolds’s office two years ago, and has made a formal complaint to police.
She said she went public with her story because she felt staying silent “would have made me complicit”.
“To say that I don’t believe what happened was right. That I don’t believe a brochure is adequate support,” she said.
“That I don’t believe people should be isolated, intimidated and ignored after traumatic incidents inside the workplace.
Thousands of people have gathered on the lawns in front of Parliament House for the rally, to protest against the treatment of women within Parliament House.
Marches are also taking place around the country as part of the national day of action, with thousands of people uniting to stand against sexism in broader society.
Earlier on Monday march organiser, Janine Hendry appealed to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack to join the protest, during a terse exchange in the Parliament House corridors.
Ms Higgins, who came forward with her allegation a month ago, said she had watched her former colleagues “downplay my lived experience” since going public.
“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,” she said.
“Details that were never disclosed to me by my employers, information that would have helped me with 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.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Women Marise Payne did not attend the rally and organisers declined an offer to meet with the pair in private.
Speaking in Parliament, Senator Payne said the government had acknowledged the cultural issues within the building and the decision to launch an independent review into how it could be improved was proof of that.
“We must own the solutions,” she said.
‘Men are not the enemy’
Speaking at the protest in Hobart, Australian of the Year Grace Tame, a child sexual abuse survivor, said ending abuse nation-wide demanded leadership and continued education.
“It starts with conversation, and from conversation, education is born,” she said.
“We’ve seen a lot of focus in our governments on responses to child sexual abuse and sexual assault and violence against women, as if we just have to accept it as a fact of life in our society.
“And I do not believe that that is right.”
Ms Tame also touched on the importance of men being part of the discussions and progress on reducing violence against women in all its forms.
“The pursuit of progress does not have to be adversarial,” she said.
“Men are not the enemy.
“Corrupt behaviour always has been and always will be the enemy.
“When you see abuse, when you hear abuse, let it know it’s there and that you’re not afraid to stand up to it.”
- For confidential support and services around sexual assault, contact 1800 RESPECT online or by phone on 1800 737 732. If you or someone you know needs help contact Life Line on 131 114