Higgins says she couldn’t scream during alleged rape
Miklos Bolza |
Brittany Higgins has said she was “waterlogged” and couldn’t call for help after waking up drunk while Bruce Lehrmann allegedly sexually assaulted her on a federal minister’s couch.
Ms Higgins gave detailed evidence on Wednesday about what she says happened in Liberal senator Linda Reynolds’ office in the early hours of March 23, 2019.
She also criticised the minister’s office for failing to support her afterwards and giving her an ultimatum where she had to choose between continuing her career working for the Liberal Party or filing a complaint with the police.
Ms Higgins alleges she gained consciousness to find Lehrmann sexually assaulting her in the Parliament House office after the pair had been out drinking with colleagues.
“I was lodged in between the arm rest and the back of the couch. My head was jammed in the corner,” she told the Federal Court.
Lehrmann was criminally charged in August 2021 over the alleged rape, which he denies.
His criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed by juror misconduct and prosecutors did not seek a second trial, citing concerns for Ms Higgins’ mental health.
During Lehrmann’s defamation trial against Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over a report on The Project about the rape allegation, an emotional Ms Higgins said she had woken up exposed with Lehrmann “lurched over” her.
“He was very much in the throes of it,” she told Justice Michael Lee.
“It just felt like he was doing it and it didn’t matter, like I was an afterthought.”
She said she told him to stop “on a loop” but felt “waterlogged and heavy” and couldn’t call out to security for help.
“I couldn’t scream like you see in the horror movies. I don’t know. I don’t know why I couldn’t,” she said.
After the alleged rape, Lehrmann got off her and left without saying a word, she said.
Ms Higgins then passed out again, the court was told.
She said she didn’t immediately tell anyone of the alleged sexual assault because she was still processing what had happened and instead spent the weekend holed up at home ordering take-out.
“I was crying hysterically. I was distraught.”
While acting chief of staff Fiona Brown was initially supportive of Ms Higgins, this changed as the party focused on the upcoming federal election, the court was told.
Ms Higgins said she was “shocked” to learn second-hand that security had found her naked in Senator Reynolds’ office that night, instead of hearing this directly from Ms Brown.
Having to speak to Senator Reynolds about the incident in the office where the alleged rape took place was also traumatising, she told the court.
Ms Higgins dropped her police complaint against Lehrmann and remained working in the minister’s office campaigning for the election in Western Australia.
She said she did so after feeling that Ms Brown had forced her to choose between pursuing the allegations and her career.
She felt “really alone” after moving interstate, struggling mentally after leaving her family on the east coast, and said the senator “actively avoided” her in WA.
A Four Corners report about rape allegations against former treasurer Christian Porter, who denies all claims, prompted her go public to Ten and News.com.au with her own claims in early 2021, the court was told.
“I learned so much, I grew so much and I was over it. I was angry at how they treated women and I was done,” she said.
Ms Higgins will be cross-examined by Lehrmann’s legal team on Thursday.
A landmark report into the ACT legal system and the Higgins case in August made damning findings against former director of public prosecutions Shane Drumgold, which he has sought to challenge.
Lehrmann is also before Queensland courts accused of raping another woman twice in Toowoomba in October 2021.
He has not yet entered a plea, but his lawyers have indicated he denies the charges.
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028AAP