Complainant testifies about rape in Australian Parliament

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A government employee testified Wednesday that she was raped by a colleague in the Australian Parliament and described her fears that she would not be believed because of the difference in their working conditions.

Brittany Higgins becomes first witness to testify against Bruce Lehrmann, 27, who has pleaded not guilty in the High Court of the Australian Capital Territory on a charge of having sex without consent in a minister’s office in March 2019. He faces a possible 12 years in prison if convicted.

Higgins said she was a 24-year employee in a management role in the office of then-Defense Industry Secretary Linda Reynolds, while Lerman had a more senior role as a cabinet adviser.

The pair had returned to Parliament early on a Saturday morning after a night of heavy drinking with colleagues. Higgins said she thought Lerman wanted to collect documents from Reynolds’ office, where she fell asleep on a couch and woke up when Lerman raped her.

Higgins said she felt “trapped, not human” as Lehrmann hovered over her, growling and making noise. She said she started crying and told him to stop but he continued.

Higgins decided to indict Lerman last year, and the jury on Wednesday heard her videotaped police interview from February 2021.

She told police that when she returned to work on Monday, two days after the alleged rape, she feared she would be fired because she and Lehrmann entering the minister’s office was flagged as a security breach.

“I knew what had happened to me was wrong, I knew I hadn’t consented,” she said.

She told police she didn’t think anyone would believe her story and thought Lehrmann’s words carried more weight than hers because of his more senior role.

“He was in the office on Monday. … He didn’t seem embarrassed (or) upset,” Higgins said. “It just wasn’t something he wanted to address.”

She told police when she identified the incident as sexually assaulting her former chief of staff, “the gears shifted.”

“It became less about me and more political, in a sense,” he said.

Defense lawyer Steven Whybrow told the court Higgins’ claims had not been tested or proven and Lehrmann denied having sex with her.

Prosecutor Shane Drumgold identified more than 50 witnesses who could be called to testify during the trial, which is expected to last between four and six weeks.

Among the witnesses are Reynolds as well as former government ministers Michaelia Cash and Steven Ciobo.

The Associated Press does not typically identify alleged sexual assault victims, but Higgins chose to identify herself to the media.

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