Trial begins for man accused of rape in Australian parliament
Sydney, Australia, Oct 4 (EFE).- A trial began on Tuesday for the man accused of raping a colleague inside Canberra’s Parliament House in 2019, a notorious case that forced the government to apologize to victims of sexual misconduct in government workplaces.
Former Liberal Party adviser Bruce Lehrmann, 27, is accused of raping colleague Brittany Higgins in the office of then defense industry minister, Linda Reynolds.
In his opening speech, Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold said the incident occurred when Lehrmann and Higgins returned to Parliament House on March 22, 2019 after a night of heavy drinking to pick something up for work, according to public broadcaster ABC.
Higgins fell asleep on a sofa and allegedly woke up to find Lehrmann raping her, and despite telling him “no” several times, he continued, according to the prosecutor.
Lehrmann denies having sex with Higgins and has pleaded not guilty.
Chief Justice Lucy McCallum told the 16 members of the jury that they will have to determine if Lehrmann and Higgins had sexual intercourse and if so, whether it was consensual.
“The evidence in the trial is not what you read before today or [what] you saw on television,” she stressed to the jury at the beginning of the trial, which is estimated to last between four and six weeks.
Higgins’ complaint in February last year prompted other women to report incidents of sexual harassment and assault in parliament, launched a series of investigations and generated a wave of condemnation against then prime minister Scott Morrison.
In February, Morrison apologized to victims of bullying, harassment and abuse in parliament.
Morrison’s apology, along with those of then opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese and both Houses of Parliament, came in response to 28 recommendations issued last November by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, who led an investigation on the work culture in the legislative headquarters. EFE