Sexual abuse victims condemn Australia PM's 'shocking' response to claims
Two prominent advocates for sexual abuse survivors slam Australia's PM, accusing him of using "weasel words" to tame rampant sexual abuse.
Brittany Higgins, a former government aide whose claim that she was raped in parliament caused national outrage, said "very little has changed" since she went public a year ago.
Higgins was regretful and caustic about the conduct of a conservative administration she had served in a nationally viewed address.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison's answer to her charges, which included references to his own daughters and wife, was "startling and at times, regrettably, a touch disrespectful," according to Higgins.
"I didn't want his sympathy as a father. I wanted him to use his power as prime minister," she said. "But his words wouldn't matter if his actions had measured up."
Higgins claimed that the national dialogue on reducing abuse, harassment, and assault had stalled at "changing off rude, tone-deaf utterances for a complicated combination of soothing weasel-words."
He was joined in her speech by Grace Tame, the 2021 "Australian of the Year," who also aimed at Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's leadership over the past year. "It rots from the top," Tame said.
She added, "Unless our leaders take full responsibility for their own failings, abuse culture will continue to thrive inside parliament, setting a corrupt standard for the rest of the nation."
In Australia, the predicament of these women sparked national debate and introspection, as well as various government investigations.
One of them, the 450-page Jenkins Review, discovered that one-third of those working in Parliament and other federal government offices have been sexually harassed while there.
Read more: 1 in 3 Are Sexually Harassed in Australia's Parliament
During her address, Tame added to the strain of the administration by claiming she was asked not to openly criticize the Prime Minister.
At a recent award presentation, she received a "threatened phone call from a senior member of a government-funded organization asking for my word that I wouldn't say anything incriminating about the prime minister."
Tame said the caller told her the Prime Minister "would have a fear... with an election coming soon." Australia's next federal election must be held by mid-May.
Due to prior engagements, Morrison was unable to attend Higgins and Tame's address, while numerous members of his government were present.
Morrison was asked about the progress his administration has made on the subject of women's safety in Parliament later Wednesday. Among other things, he mentioned a planned 10-year strategy for women's safety.
Higgins said the plan's "aims are so lofty and vague that it's impossible to disagree with and equally difficult to examine."
Tame has advocated for increased financing for consent education in schools. She stated that the government "plans to spend 11 cents per kid each year on preventative education" between 2020 and 2022. Both women ruled out any plans to run for political office.