Australian Senator says parliament not a 'safe place' for women
Australian Senator accuses a colleague senator of "sexually assaulting" her.
An Australian lawmaker on Thursday eviscerated that she had been sexually "assaulted" in parliament, stressing the building was "not a safe place" for women to work.
In a tearful Senate address, independent Lidia Thorpe said she had been subjected to "sexual comments", cornered in a stairwell, "inappropriately touched", and "propositioned" by "powerful men".
Thorpe had on Wednesday accused a colleague senator of "sexually assaulting" her, but she later withdrew the accusation under pressure from the House of Representatives.
Thorpe reiterated her accusations against conservative David Van on Thursday. Simultaneously, Van has vehemently refuted the accusations.
Van claimed he was "shattered and battered" by the accusations, telling local media they were "utterly untrue".
It is worth noting that Van's Liberal Party suspended him Thursday over the allegations.
Despite the fact that the accusations were shielded from Australia's strict defamation laws, Thorpe said Van had engaged attorneys and she had to restate her case to navigate parliamentary rules.
Saying that "sexual assault" meant different things to different people, Thorpe described her experiences in the crucible of Australian democracy.
"What I experienced was being followed, aggressively propositioned, and inappropriately touched," she said.
"I was afraid to walk out of the office door. I would open the door slightly and check the coast was clear before stepping out," she told lawmakers.
"It was to the degree that I had to be accompanied by someone whenever I walked inside this building," she added.
Not an isolated incident
Since 2021, high-profile claims of assault and harassment in parliament have roiled Australian politics.
After a night of heavy drinking in March 2019, former political assistant Brittany Higgins claimed that a fellow conservative employee had sexually assaulted her on a couch in a cabinet minister's parliamentary office.
Sexual harassment and bullying were reported to be pervasive in Australia's parliament in 2021, impacting both legislators and workers.
At the time, one in three people working in parliament said they "have experienced some form of sexual harassment while working there."
That included 63% of the country's female parliamentarians.
The Higgins case ignited widespread outrage, and the risk to her mental health prevented the case from being retried after it was declared a mistrial.
The controversy has recently reignited after opposition conservatives leaped on a series of leaked text messages to accuse the now center-left government of politicizing the case.