Brittany Higgins’s voice trembled as she addressed the crowd outside the House of Parliament in Canberra.
She had decided at the last minute to speak to more than a thousand people, mainly women, with posters calling for justice for women, for survivors of sexual assault and for Higgins herself, who alleges she was raped by a colleague within Parliament.
That accusation is currently the subject of an ongoing police investigation, although no charges have been filed.
The # March4Justice protests were sparked in part by Higgins’s rape charge and the accusation of a now-deceased woman that she was raped by Attorney General Christian Porter in 1988, a claim that he has strongly denied.
“I was raped inside the House of Parliament by a colleague and for a long time I felt that the people around me did not care what happened because of what it could mean to them,” Higgins said.
“It was very confusing because these people were my idols. I had dedicated my life to them. They were my social network, colleagues and my family. Suddenly they treated me differently. He was not a person who had just gone through many changes, he was a political problem ”.
Higgins said he has not been able to find work. His partner quit his job in Canberra after the story broke, attributing it to fear of repercussions. It had been “an extremely difficult few weeks,” he said.
“I watched the Prime Minister of Australia publicly apologize to me through the media, while privately the media team actively undermined and discredited my loved ones,” Higgins said.
“I tuned into question time to see my former bosses, people to whom I had dedicated my life, downplay my lived experience.”
He said he woke up to daily news updates with new information about his own alleged experience.
“Details that my employers never disclosed to me, information that would have helped me as questions that have haunted me for years.”
The organizers of the march brought a petition signed by nearly 70,000 people calling for action to better protect women from abuse and harassment. They wanted to introduce him to the prime minister, but Scott Morrison refused to meet with them. He offered a meeting in his office, which was declined.
When Higgins addressed the crowd in Canberra, another woman took the stage in Hobart. Grace Tame, Australian of the Year, was sexually abused as a teenager by a school teacher and campaigned to change the law in Tasmania to allow survivors of sexual abuse to speak up and tell their story. The change that is now gripping Australia, the need for so many women to speak up and be heard, started in Hobart, Tame said.
“When an issue that has been shrouded in darkness for so long is suddenly brought to light, there is great shock and disbelief about how something so evil could happen, and not only happen, but it will happen so ubiquitously,” he said. Tame.
And the answer is plain and simple: silence. Evil thrives in silence. Tacit behavior, ignored behavior, is supported behavior. “
At demonstrations in Australia, women marched and women spoke. In Sydney, 10,000 people heard author Jess Hill describe a tactic used in cases of family and sexual violence: denying, attacking and reversing the victim and the offender.
“They reverse it to make it appear that the alleged perpetrator is the victim,” he said.
In Melbourne, before more than 5,000 people in Treasury Gardens, former Liberal Party MP Julia Banks said she had initially been afraid to speak at the rally for fear of repercussions.
“This is our collective voice,” he said. “It is a roar. It is a roar that tells the men in power, if you turn your back on women, we will turn your back ”.
A plane flew over the crowd carrying a banner that read: “Women Vote Too.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk attended the march in Brisbane.
At every rally, in every city, women carried signs that read: “I believe her”, “I am with her.” Some carried posters of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman allegedly murdered in London, and spoke of the protests in that city. In Melbourne, a woman carried a sign that read: “I have been silenced by an NDA.”
Another woman, who asked to be called Jo, held a sign that read: “I did not report my assault … because I knew they would not believe me. Stop agreeing with me. “
Belinda Payne, a woman from Yorta Yorta, told Guardian Australia that she had felt conflicted about attending the march.
“I work with many indigenous women, I am an indigenous woman and their stories are never heard, they are never believed,” said Payne.
“I am still here because I believe that every step is important. As tragic as it is, she was supported by many privileged people and many indigenous women, they are not supported by anyone when they go through this. I also want justice for all Aboriginal women. “
Morrison told parliament that the protests were a “triumph of democracy.”
“It is good and right that so many can come together here in this way, whether in our capital or elsewhere, and do so in a peaceful way to express their very genuine and real concerns and frustrations,” he said.
“This is a vibrant liberal democracy. Not far from here, those marches, even now, are being gunned down, but not here in this country. This is a triumph of democracy when we see these things happen. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism