Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologized Tuesday to a former government staffer who alleged that she was raped by a colleague in Parliament House two years ago.
Morrison promised an investigation into the alleged rape and the culture inside the country’s political capital, a day after the former staff member went to the media with her story.
Brittany Higgins alleges she was raped by a former colleague in the defense minister’s office after an evening work event in March 2019.
In an interview with Australia’s Network 10 show “The Project” on Monday, Higgins said she tried to go home, but the unnamed colleague insisted they go to Parliament House in a taxi to “pick something up,” where she passed out on a couch.
She told “The Project” she woke up to find her colleague on top of her “mid-rape,” and when she repeatedly asked him to stop, he didn’t. Higgins has not publicly identified her alleged rapist.
Higgins said she spoke with the police in early April 2019, but decided against making a formal complaint amid concerns about her career prospects. “It’s just not the right decision for me personally, especially in the light of my workplace demands,” she wrote, according to Australia’s news.com.au. Police in Canberra confirmed to Reuters they had spoken to a complainant in April 2019, but she chose not to make a formal complaint.
After Higgins told senior staff in Reynolds’ office of the alleged attack, she said in the interview that she was then asked to attend a meeting in the office where she says she was assaulted.
Defense Minister Linda Reynolds told Parliament on Monday that she didn’t know the substance of the allegations when she called the meeting with her staff member, and “had I known, I would have conducted the meeting elsewhere.”
Morrison on Tuesday apologized to Higgins and promised an investigation. The Prime Minister said that the alleged perpetrator was “quite swiftly” fired for breaching security by entering Parliament House on the night of the alleged rape.
“That should not have happened, and I do apologize,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra. “I want to make sure any young woman working in this place is as safe as possible.”
According to Morrison, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet official Stephanie Foster will investigate how workplace complaints in Parliament are dealt with. There will also be a separate probe into workplace culture.
In a statement to CNN, Higgins said that she had come forward “because I didn’t want what happened to me, to happen to anyone else.”
While she thanked Morrison for his apology, Higgins said the Prime Minister’s announcement of an investigation into Parliament House culture was “long overdue.”
“It should not have taken my story, or the story of other victim-survivors to air on national television for the Prime Minister — or any Member of Parliament — to take action on workplace sexual harassment, assault or bullying,” she said in the statement.
Higgins’ allegations are the latest in a series of accusations made by female members of the governing Liberal Party, which have put pressure of Morrison to take steps to improve the government’s workplace culture.
Last year, a former Liberal Party staff member accused then-immigration minister Alan Tudge of improper behavior, which he denies.
In her statement, Higgins called for Parliament to establish an independent reporting mechanism through which complaints could be made confidentially.
“Finally, everyone should feel safe to report sexual assault without fear of losing their job. These incidents shouldn’t have to play out in the media for change to happen,” she said.