An Australian lawmaker on Thursday detailed allegations that she had been sexually “assaulted” in parliament, stating 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 fellow senator of “sexually assaulting” her, before being forced to withdraw the remark under threat of parliamentary sanction.
On Thursday, Thorpe restated the core of her allegations against conservative David Van, who has strenuously denied the claims.
Van said he was “shattered and battered” by the allegations, telling local media they were “utterly untrue.” Van’s Liberal Party suspended him Thursday over the claims.
While the allegations were protected from Australia’s severe defamation laws, Thorpe said that Van had engaged lawyers in the matter 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. “I know there are others that have experienced similar things and have not come forward in the interests of their careers.”
– ‘Sexist culture’ –
Since 2021, Australian politics has been roiled by high-profile allegations of assault and harassment inside parliament.
At that time former political aide Brittany Higgins alleged that a fellow conservative staffer raped her on a couch in a cabinet minister’s parliamentary office following a night of heavy drinking in March 2019.
Five separate investigations followed, collectively delivering a scathing indictment on the frequently sexist nature of Australian politics.
A 2021 government-backed inquiry found that sexual harassment and bullying were widespread in Australia’s parliament, affecting both lawmakers and staff.
One in three people working in parliament at the time said they “have experienced some form of sexual harassment while working there”. That included 63 percent of the country’s female parliamentarians. The Higgins case sparked national protests and a court case that was eventually judged to be a mistrial and not retried because of the risk to her mental health.
The man in question has sued multiple journalists for reporting on the case and threatened to sue his accuser.
He denied the allegations, and in court pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent. The controversy has reignited in recent weeks, after opposition conservatives leapt on a series of leaked text messages to accuse the now centre-left government of politicising the case.