Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has responded to the reports that she referred to Brittany Higgins as a “lying cow” following her rape allegations, however has not denied the claims.
CW: Sexual assault
According to The Australian, Senator Reynolds made remarks about formal liberal staffer Brittany Higgins on the same day that the news of Ms Higgins’ alleged rape in Parliament went public.
The story states that Senator Reynolds called Ms Higgins a “lying cow” within earshot of several staff members and public servants in an open part of her office.
On Wednesday night, the Defence Minister issued a statement that did not directly confirm or deny the comment. “I have never questioned Ms Higgins’ account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter.
“I did however comment on news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented,” said Senator Reynolds. “I have consistently respected Ms Higgins’ agency and privacy and said this is her story to tell and no one else’s.”
Brittany Higgins is yet to respond to the alleged comments but has already made clear her disappointment with how her case has been handled by Parliament, as well as Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s response.
— Samantha Maiden (@samanthamaiden) March 3, 2021
Liberal defence minister Linda Reynolds proves rape victims are not believed by calling rape victim Brittany Higgins “a lying cow” in front of staff.
— Barry Tucker (@btckr) March 3, 2021
After February 15, Senator Reynolds apparently later made an apology to her staffers, saying that the comment had been made during “a stressful time”, according to The Australian.
Big congratulations to the staffers in Linda Reynolds’ office for speaking up. There is no excuse for what she said, certainly not the one being trotted out about a “stressful time”.
— Rohan Smith (@Ro_Smith) March 3, 2021
After Scott Morrison’s press conference on February 16, the disappointment was twofold: the Prime Minister implied that he only empathised with Higgins because he was a father. “She [his wife Jenny] said to me: ‘You have to think about this as a father. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?”
This was followed by a dose of victim-blaming, whereby Morrison told press: “I understand that over time, particularly in situations like this, that information can become confused over time about who makes contact and things like that.”
To which Ms Higgins responded: “The continued victim-blaming rhetoric by the Prime Minister is personally very distressing to me and countless other survivors.” Morrison’s comments sparked nation-wide outrage, from both outside and politics. “Daughters and wives do not exist to teach men to respect women and have empathy,” Victorian MP Julian Hill told Parliament.
A #NotJustADaughter hashtag even started trending on Twitter.
If the women of the world collectively unleashed detailed descriptions of the sexual crimes committed against them and their resulting pain and trauma, the fucking planet would sink under the tsunami of sorrow and fury. #DontFundRape#NotJustADaughter
— MFW (@MFWitches) February 25, 2021
More recently, Australian Of The Year and advocate for survivors of sexual assault, Grace Tame has weighed in on the government’s response. Appearing before the National Press Club on Wednesday, Tame delivered a powerful speech directly responding to Scott Morrison’s handling of the Brittany Higgins case.
“It shouldn’t take having children to have a conscience. And actually, on top of that, having children doesn’t guarantee a conscience,” Tame said. When questioned whether she believed Scott Morrison was creating an atmosphere where survivors are believed, her direct response was: “clearly not.”
Evidence of this can be seen in yesterday’s news whereby Attorney-General Christian Porter’s wholly denied the historical rape allegation made against him earlier this week, whilst also painting himself as the victim of the situation. Porter was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in 1988, which was reported to police in 2020 before the woman took her own life in June last year. Regardless of whether or not the allegations are true, in his press conference, Porter pleaded for the public to empathise with him and centred the conversation around himself, instead of the victim or her family.
“If you could just imagine, and I know that we’re all cynics and this is a hard and tough environment, but just imagine for a second that it’s not true, that for whatever the recollection and belief that I’m sure was strongly held, it’s just not true, just imagine it for a second,” Porter said.
People took to Twitter to criticise Porter for crying crocodile tears.
Sure suicide is bad but have you tried being me this last week?
— Benjamin Millar (@BenjaminMillar) March 3, 2021
Oh my god. Christian Porter praising the luxury of professional mental health support available to him in the wake of what happened to this poor woman. I can’t even.
— Marieke Hardy (@mariekehardy) March 3, 2021
There was also confusion surrounding Porter’s recollection of events.
I’m very interested that Christian Porter “can’t remember [the situation] very well” but knows he definitely didn’t do it.
— Alex Anastassiou (@alexanasta_) March 3, 2021
In light of Scott Morrison victim-blaming Ms Higgins and Christian Porter playing the victim himself, it is evident that things need to change.
Alleged rape in parliament house.
An alleged rapist as Australia’s first law officer.
An epidemic of sexual assault in our aged care system.
Victim-blaming from the chief of our defence force.
This nation is sick. And so are the people in charge.
— Benjamin Law 羅旭能 (@mrbenjaminlaw) March 3, 2021
Grace Tame has called for a uniform, national standard of sexual consent to be implemented to effectively teach this principle across Australia.
“To our government – our decision-makers, and our policymakers – we need reform on a national scale. Both in policy and education,” Tame said. “To address these heinous crimes so they are no longer enabled to be perpetrated. It is so important for our nation, the whole world, in fact, to listen to survivors’ stories. The more we come out and speak about this, the more the conversation will be normalised.”
An organisation that has taken on the mission is Consent Labs, founded by Dr Joyce Yu and Angelique Wan. For the last five years, Consent Labs have run youth-led workshops in classrooms, universities, and workplaces to start much-needed conversations around sexual consent.
At Consent Labs, we strongly believe in the right for education and empowerment of young people on topics of sex and consent. Thank you to Chanel Contos for working tirelessly to bring attention to the education gap and devastating experiences young people have been through. 1/ pic.twitter.com/iIjnizlwYv
— Consent Labs (@ConsentLabs) February 22, 2021
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost two million Australians adults have experienced sexual assault by the age of 15.
If any of these headlines have you asking “what can we do about it?”, you can sign the Petition For Consent To Be Included In Australian Schools’ Sex Education Earlier here.