Brittany Higgins has blasted Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds’ call to make it a crime for alleged victims to use the media or parliamentary forums to air allegations warning it could silence alleged victims.
In a submission to the Sofronoff Inquiry, the former Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has argued that the ACT Crimes Act should be amended to deter individuals from using the media and/or Parliamentary forums in relation to an alleged criminal offence that ought properly be the subject of the criminal justice processes.
Senator Reynolds points to a section of the NSW Crimes Act in the submission that makes it an offence for anyone who knows or believes that a serious indictable offence has been committed and fails to report it to police.
“Imagine being the person earnestly attempting to change the Crime Act to make it illegal for alleged sexual assault survivors to talk about their lived experience?’’ Ms Higgins said in response.
“As opposed to, you know, reforming the justice system to actually prosecuting perpetrators.”
“This proposal completely undermines all the crucial work done by the #LetHerSpeak campaign and the #March4Justice movement.
“Instead of solving the problem, there are people who would prefer to just silence victims.”
Let Her Speak founder and spokeswoman Nina Funnell said she did not agree with Senator Reynolds’ idea.
“Overwhelmingly, sexual assault and rape survivors do not report to the police,’’ she said.
“Up to 90 per cent of sexual assault survivors will never report their offence to the police for a raft of reasons, many of which have to do with the fact that the criminal justice process is not fit for purpose for sexual assault survivors.
“We know that putting the onus and blame on rape survivors for not reporting to the police doesn’t make him any more likely to report to authorities. What it does do is redirect focus away from the problems in the system which needs fixing. By heaping blame and shame onto the victim.
“If we want more survivors reporting to the authorities, then we need to take a serious critical look at what is not working about the policing and criminal justice system.”
Ms Higgins went public with a claim she was sexually assaulted in Senator Reynolds parliamentary office in March 2019 two years ago.
Another Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann was charged but pleaded not guilty. He has always denied wrongdoing, and the charge was dropped by the DPP after a mistrial.
The latest exchange comes just weeks after Ms Higgins claimed that Senator Reynolds “continues to harass me through the media and in the parliament”.
“This has been going on for years now. It is time to stop,” Ms Higgins said.
In response, Senator Reynolds’ lawyers sent Ms Higgins a legal concerns notice – which is the first step in lodging a defamation lawsuit.
Senator Reynolds is suing Ms Higgins’ fiance, David Sharaz, for defamation over several tweets that he posted and has previously sent legal letters to Ms Higgins publisher.
During the trial, Senator Reynolds’ chief of staff Fiona Brown said that her boss wanted the matter reported to police.
In an interview with the Weekend Australian this year, Ms Brown says Senator Linda Reynolds wanted to report the alleged rape with or without Ms Higgins permission.
“Am I supposed to go and accuse a young man of a criminal offence without the female telling me she was raped? ”,’’ Ms Brown said.
Fearing she would put her career on the line by disobeying a minister’s direction, she remained uncomfortable reporting the matter to police without permission from Higgins. Instead, she rang the Department of Finance manager Lauren Barons.
“I rang Lauren. She said, ‘No, you can’t do that. You’ve got to give the woman agency. It’s her right to make a report to the police.’
“I said to Barons: ‘I might have to come to talk to you about my termination this afternoon. In my mind, she [Reynolds] was within her rights to sack me.”
This was the reason she obtained written advice on how the matter was handled, to justify refusing the request to report the matter without Ms Higgins consent.
The advice noted that “ultimately any decision as to whether to lodge a police report or pursue any other form of complaint relating to this matter would be a personal choice of the person involved”.
In the latest material to leak from the evidence brief prepared for the ACT Supreme Court trial, WhatsApp texts between David Ms Higgins partner David Sharaz and a producer for The Project Angus Llewllyn have been provided to the Daily Mail.
Mr Lehrmann is suing Channel 10 and host Lisa Wilkinson for defamation over the original interview that was broadcast and Mr Llewllyn is likely to be called as a witness during the defamation trial in November.
Lawyers acting for Mr Lehrmann in the defamation matter have firmly denied any involvement in the mysterious leaks that have previously included persons unknown providing CCTV of the night in question and audio recordings of police witnesses to Channel 7’s Spotlight program.
In the latest leaks, Mr Sharaz texts the Ten producer Angus Llewllyn to say that Brittany Higgins ‘stress-grabbed’ a $90 bottle of Bollinger champagne from a hotel room after her five-hour discussion with Lisa Wilkinson.
The morning after the interview at 7.34am, Mr Sharaz sent another text to Mr Llewellyn: ‘Hey mate, heads up. Brittany stress grabbed the closest bottle of alcohol last night after you both left and was a little panicked.’
“I looked and it was the Bollinger,’ he added, before adding a new paragraph that read: ‘I’m obviously happy to pay for that one. I looked and it was like $90.’
The bottle was however paid for by Mr Sharaz.
“I find it curious that the Daily Mail is continuing to publish text messages that were never tendered in court and should have never been in the public domain,’’ Mr Sharaz said in response.