Validation for Woman Who Said She Was Raped in Australia’s Parliament

When a young former government employee said on national television in 2021 that she had been sexually assaulted in Australia’s Parliament two years earlier, it shocked the nation and unleashed a wave of anger aimed at the country’s insular, male-dominated political establishment.

The employee, Brittany Higgins accused her colleague Bruce Lehrmann of raping her when she was inebriated, and said that she felt pressure from the government at the time not to report the assault. She became a figurehead for a reckoning on women’s rights that ultimately contributed to the electoral ousting of Australia’s conservative national government. But for years, there was no legal conclusion to the case.

On Monday, it was finally — somewhat — settled, in a roundabout way.

Mr. Lehrmann lost a civil defamation suit that he had filed against the television station that first broadcast Ms. Higgins’ account, with the judge ruling that based on the available evidence, it was more likely than not that Mr. Lehrmann had raped her.

The proceedings did not take place in a criminal court, and the offense did not have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, the standard of proof was a balance of probabilities — a legal term meaning whether something is more likely than not to have occurred.

Still, for many, this was a long-awaited validation for Ms. Higgins.

“Something resembling justice has been done,” said Sarah Maddison, a political science professor at the University of Melbourne.

Justice Michael Lee of the Australian Federal Court in Sydney determined on Monday that it was more likely than not that Ms. Higgins had been inebriated, unaware of her surroundings, and lying still “like a log” while Mr. Lehrmann assaulted her. The judge found that Mr. Lehrmann had been “hellbent” on having sex with her, disregarding whether she had the capacity to consent.

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