Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins has spoken out on the impact the legal system has on people who come forward with sexual assault allegations.
The prosecution of a man alleged to have raped Higgins in Parliament House in 2019 was last week dropped due to concerns about her mental wellbeing.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC announces sexual assault charges against Bruce Lehrmann have been dropped
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The initial trial was aborted due to juror misconduct.
Bruce Lehrmann has always maintained his innocence, denying there was any sexual contact between the pair.
In her first public comments since the prosecution was dropped, Higgins said she never understood how asymmetrical the criminal justice system was until she spoke up.
She said she had felt like the person on trial after having her private life, messages and data publicly exposed and scrutinised.
Higgins testified and was cross-examined during the trial while Lehrmann did not take the stand.
“This is the reality of how complainants in sexual assault cases are treated,” she wrote in an Instagram post on Sunday morning.
“Their lives are torn apart, their families and friends called to the witness stand and the accused has the legal right to say absolutely nothing.”
She said of her own ordeal, “my life was publicly scrutinised, open for the world to see”.
“I was required to surrender my telephones, my passwords, messages, photos and my data.”
Higgins said the criminal justice system failed to deliver outcomes for victims of sexual assault, citing that in the ACT during 2020, only 16 per cent of sexual offences reported to police resulted in a charge.
Only half of those resulted in a conviction.
“That is to our national shame,” she said.
“I want to thank the other women who came forward and shared their own experiences.
“I believe you. You were with me every day I walked into that court room and faced him.”
The ACT government is considering legal reforms that would make it easier for alleged victims of sexual assault to give evidence during a retrial by allowing recorded evidence from a first trial to be used in a second.
The Women’s Legal Centre in Canberra welcomed the proposed reform, saying it would offer more choice in a process that offers limited options.
Principal solicitor Claudia Maclean says the reforms would help mitigate trauma risks and stop the need for complainants to “start all over again” during a retrial.
“This is one step closer to making our criminal justice processes more trauma-informed,” she wrote in a submission to the reforms.
Maclean says complainants should also have access to legal advice about making the choice to use recorded evidence, with there currently being no legal service to inform them about the processes involved.
“Whilst there are victim-survivor support services, they are unable to provide legal and strategic advice about optimising engagement in the criminal justice system,” she said.
“This is a known gap in this space.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.In an emergency, call 000.
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
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