Social Issues

Rape case withdrawn in Australian parliament over victim’s risk

Sydney, Australia, Dec 2 (EFE).- Prosecutors withdrew Friday the accusation for an alleged rape committed in 2019 in the Australian parliament for the “unacceptable risk” suffered by the life of the victim, hospitalized for the trauma and personal attacks against her.

The withdrawal of the accusation means the suspension of the process, as announced by the Prosecutor’s Office’s Director Shane Drumgold, who said that although the search for justice is “essential,” the safety of a complainant in a issue of sexual assault “must be paramount,” state channel ABC reported.

The complainant, Brittany Higgins, accused then-Liberal Party adviser Bruce Lehrmann in February 2021 of raping her on the night of Mar. 22, 2019 in a ministerial office of the parliament, in a case that shook the country’s political scene.

The first trial began on Oct. 4, but was annulled days later, on Oct. 27 after it was revealed that one of its members illegally accessed extrajudicial documents.

The defendant, a co-worker of the alleged victim, pleaded not guilty to the rape charge and denied having had a sexual exchange with the plaintiff.

The Australian Capital Territory High Court was scheduled to start a second trial on Feb. 20.

“During the investigation and trial as a sexual assault whistleblower, Ms. Higgins has faced a level of personal attack that I have not seen in over 20 years in this job,” Drumgold told reporters.

The prosecutor said the two independent physicians recently warned “that the ongoing trauma associated with this prosecution presents a significant and unacceptable risk to the life of the complainant” at the possibility of having to testify and hear the testimony of the defendants again.

“This has left me no choice but to submit a notice refusing to proceed with the new trial (…) and to end the prosecution,” Drumgold said, praising Higgins’ “courage, grace and dignity.”

Higgins is hospitalized receiving psychiatric treatment because the pressure and attacks after her complaint “have been difficult and relentless,” Emma Webster, a friend of the victim, said in a Friday statement.

“While it is disappointing that the trial ended this way, Brittany’s health and safety must always come first,” Webster added.

The case of Higgins, who became a symbol for denouncing sexual abuse in the workplace, motivated other women to report incidents of harassment and sexual assault in parliament and began a series of investigations into the alleged crimes and management of these cases.

In February, then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the representatives of the bicameral Legislature apologized to the victims of harassment, mistreatment and sexual assault and recognized that many complaints were silenced for fear of electoral consequences.

The official apologies were part of the response to 28 recommendations issued in November 2021 by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, who led an inquiry into work culture in parliament. EFE


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