Brittany Higgins was distressed because she felt she could not retain her parliamentary job if she reported her alleged sexual assault to police, a court has heard.
Catherine Cripps was a rape crisis counsellor who attended a “meet and greet” with Ms Higgins and Australian Federal Police on April 8, 2019, about two weeks after the alleged rape occurred.
Giving evidence in a defamation trial on Friday, Ms Cripps said Ms Higgins showed distress at the meeting and in subsequent counselling sessions during 2020.
“It wasn’t so much reporting – she desperately did want to report it but she felt she wanted her job more,” she told the Federal Court.
“There was a terrible conflict, a real tug of war.”
Her alleged rapist, Bruce Lehrmann, has denied Ms Higgins’ claims and is suing Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson claiming they defamed him through a February 2021 report on The Project.
Ms Higgins says she was sexually assaulted by Lehrmann in the Parliament House office of their then-boss, Senator Linda Reynolds, in the early hours of March 23, 2019.
The junior media adviser had only been in the ACT for six months for what she described as her “dream job” and keeping the position was incongruent with reporting the alleged rape, Ms Cripps told the court.
“She told me that she knew if she brought this to anyone’s attention, she would lose her job. She was clear about that.”
Earlier on Friday, Detective Senior Constable Sarah Harman described “frustrating” difficulties in retrieving CCTV footage of Ms Higgins and Lehrmann in Parliament House on the night of the alleged rape.
Police were told the footage could not be handed over after the election was called on April 11 and the government went into caretaker mode.
The video was eventually obtained and has been played during the court case.
Ms Higgins met with Det Sen Const Harman at the same “meet and greet” session attended by Ms Cripps.
In the car ride there, Ms Higgins told the detective the white dress she was wearing on the night of the alleged rape had not been washed and was in a bag under her bed.
At the police station, the officer told Ms Higgins she wanted to retrieve the dress soon as it was “perishable evidence” in the case.
She also asked Ms Higgins to find the name of the second bar she visited before going to Parliament House as she could not remember where she had gone after leaving The Dock late at night on March 22.
On April 13, Ms Higgins emailed the detective saying she no longer wished to pursue the complaint.
She never handed over the dress or informed the AFP of the name of the second bar, which turned out to be ’80s themed nightclub 88mph, the court was told.
On October 20, the AFP received an inquiry from the Canberra Times about the alleged rape including a claim it might be referred to in Senate estimates hearings.
Det Sen Const Harman said when she rang Ms Higgins to inform her she was “clearly crying” and “hysterical” before abruptly hanging up the phone.
Ms Higgins was much calmer, saying she was “all good” during a second phone conversation later that day, the detective said.
On Friday afternoon, Justice Michael Lee rejected an application by Lehrmann’s lawyers to exclude a report by self-taught lip reader Tim Reedy retained by Ten in the case.
Mr Reedy, who has been deaf since age four, has examined silent CCTV footage of Ms Higgins, Lehrmann and others at The Dock and provided a transcript to the court about what was said.
Lehrmann was charged in August 2021 over the alleged rape, but his criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed by juror misconduct.
Prosecutors did not seek a second trial, citing concerns for Ms Higgins’ mental health.
Lehrmann is also before Queensland courts accused of raping another woman twice in Toowoomba in October 2021.
He has not yet entered a plea, but his lawyers have indicated he denies the charges.
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028