The former Liberal staffer whose rape allegation opened the floodgates for women to ask for justice and safety made a surprise appearance at the March 4 Justice outside Parliament House on Monday, rallying women to fix a broken system.
"There is a horrible societal acceptance of sexual violence experienced by women in Australia," Brittany Higgins told the crowd.
"My story was on the front page for the sole reason that it was a painful reminder to women that it can happen in Parliament House, and can truly happen anywhere."
In a crowd of more than 5000 protesters, almost all wearing black, Ms Higgins, in all white, rose to speak outside the very place she alleges she was raped, and where the government failed to protect her.
"I have read the news updates every day at 5am, because I was waking up to new information about my own sexual assault through the media. Details that were never disclosed to me by my employers, information that would have helped me as questions that have haunted me for years," she said.
"I watched as people hid behind throwaway phrases like due process and presumption of innocence while failing to acknowledge how the justice system is notoriously stacked against victims of sexual crime."
One of 40 rallies around the country, Ms Higgins called on those in attendance to speak up and not be complicit in violence and harassment against women.
"Speak up. Share your truth and know that you have a generation of women ready, willing and able to support you," she said.
"Take ownership of your story and free yourself from the stigma of shame. Together, we can bring about real, meaningful reform to the workplace culture inside Parliament House and, hopefully, every workplace, to ensure the next generation of women can benefit from a safer and more equitable Australia."
Ms Higgins also took aim at the advice from Defence Force chief Angus Campbell to women on how not to fall prey to sexual predators.
Crowds chanted "enough is enough" and "we believe you" to the speakers, which included journalist Lisa Wilkinson, the Australian Council of Trade Unions President and Secretary Michele O'Neil and Sally McManus, journalist Virginia Haussegger and founder of Canberra's Women's Liberation movement Biff Ward.
Inclusion and intersectionality was a focus for speakers, who acknowledged women of colour and disabled women were more likely to victims of gendered violence.
A rousing welcome to country was delivered by Aunty Violet Sheridan and Dr Tjanara Goreng Goreng sang a traditional song.
We have already come to the front door, now it’s up to the Government to cross the threshold and come to us. We will not be meeting behind closed doors.— 💧Janine Hendry (@janine_hendry) March 14, 2021
Along with Ms Higgins, some of the most rousing speeches came from the youngest speakers, with sexual assault survivor Saxon Mullins calling men to stand up to misogyny.
"One in five women have experienced sexual violence," Ms Mullins said.
"Men, where do you think these perpetrators are hiding? They are your friends. They are your football mates. They are your friends from school.
"Do you tell people they are being too sensitive when they call out sexist, racist or transphobic remarks? If any of this rings a bell, I need to remind you that you helped create a toxic culture of misogyny."
Those in Canberra saw the petition of more than 90,000 signatures handed to Labor's Tanya Plibersek and the Greens' Larissa Waters. It called for a far-reaching inquiry into culture at Parliament House and for an inquiry into the historical rape allegation against Christian Porter. Dozens of MPs were among the crowd, with members of all political parties in attendance.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Women Marise Payne didn't attend the march, instead inviting a delegation of organisers for a private meeting inside Parliament House.
That offer was rejected before the rally on Monday morning, with organiser Janine Hendry saying she had read the room.
"We have already come to the front door, now it's up to the government to cross the threshold and come to us," Ms Hendry said. "We will not be meeting behind closed doors."
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