24-year-old Brittany Higgins was a month into her role as a media adviser for Defence Minister Linda Reynolds when she says she was sexually assaulted in Senator Reynolds’ office by a co-worker after a night out with colleagues. She says she had to choose between her job or reporting the incident to police.
She was found the following morning by security in a state of undress, within an office with highly classified information. This was considered a serious security breach and at the time Senator Reynolds’ office did not believe that the incident was a potential sexual assault. The alleged incident occurred just week before the 2019 election was called.
Since, the Senator has been publicly shamed for making her young adviser attend a meeting in the office that the assault occurred in just days earlier. A government spokeswoman says that Senator Reynolds has now accepted that this was a mistake.
Ms Higgins Liberal co-worker who perpetrated the alleged assault resigned immediately when approached about the security breach. Within days the incident was reported to the Australian Federal Police, but no formal complaint was made by Ms Higgins in order to protect the Liberal party and keep her “dream job”.
Miss Higgins said during the meeting Senator Reynolds expressed that, “’(She) felt physically ill,’ All that sort of thing. And then it kind of turned to, ‘As women, this is something we go through’”.
“She said, ‘If you choose to go to the police, we will support you in that process, but we just need to know ahead of time. We need to know now’… She didn’t know me. I was just this sudden problem for her. That’s what it felt like.”
Unfortunately, the incident is not at all remarkable but perhaps by taking a stand, this young woman can drive a change in work culture.
Should there be further safeguards to protect individuals who fall victim to sexual assault in the workplace?
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