The entire country went into a shock this week after a horrific account of alleged sexual assault experienced by a former member of the government staff was disclosed in the Australian parliament.
Brittany Higgins, now 26, alleged she was raped in the office of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds in March 2019 by someone who worked for Prime Minister Scott Morrison's ruling Liberal party.
While the Liberal party has been dogged by several allegations of improper behaviour by women's rights advocates, Morrison, on Tuesday, publicly apologized to the woman and promised a thorough investigation into his government's workplace culture.
Lack of timely action
Providing details of her unfathomable experience in a recent interview, published on the news website news.com.au, on Monday, Higgins said the incident happened nearly two years ago while she was returning after partying with her colleagues.
Higgins said she was new to this job and it had been only weeks for her new role as a media adviser for the defence minister Linda Reynolds. She went on narrating that while returning she had been offered a ride home by a male colleague widely regarded as a rising star within the Liberal Party.
However, instead of taking her home, the unnamed person redirected the taxi driver to the Parliament House, where, she said, he assaulted her after she had fallen asleep on a couch in the defense minister's office due to heavy drinking.
Higgins said she woke up "mid-rape," and urged her assailant to stop, but he did not even bother to look at her.
The next day, Higgins said, she was quick enough to inform the Defence Minister about this incident, but as it was just weeks left for the 2019 federal elections no action was taken in the matter.
Shocked by the manner it was handled
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister apologized for the manner in which her case was handled. "This should not be an environment where a young woman can find herself in such a vulnerable situation. That is not OK," he said publicly in the Parliament.
Higgins said that although she had initially filed a case with the police, she later dropped the idea to punish the culprit due to internal pressure from the party. She said she was made to choose between the police and her job.
"They were trying to silence me, and I think that's so wrong," she added in her interview.
Calling the allegations to be "deeply distressing", the Prime Minister, in a statement, has laid out initiatives to better support women in politics and making a comfortable workplace for them, including an external complaints process separate from the party's, according to ABC News.
After keeping quiet for so long, Higgins said she finally decided to speak out after an investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation shed light on sexual misconduct within the Liberal Party after which she also quit her job.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports, one in every six women in Australia over the age of 15 has been a victim of sexual assault. However, that figure has steeply increased in the past decade. If we talk of recent incidents, Morrison himself had come under fire for interrupting a female colleague last year, while Senator Sarah Hanson-Young had filed a defamation suit against a male lawmaker who had asked her to "stop shagging men".