Sun. Jun 16th, 2024

The Epic Face-off in Bruce Lehrmann’s ‘Chillin’ Showdown: Crazy Courtroom Shenanigans!

Emily Hudson By Emily Hudson Jun9,2024
This article contains references to sexual assault.
For three hours on Monday, survivor Saxon Mullins was fixated on her computer and the words of Federal Court Justice Michael Lee as he read out his judgment in the
The judgment was detailed, and for Mullins, it brought back memories of her own time in court.
“You are just hanging there for hours while they read out their findings, never showing their hand, never tipping their cards,” Mullins, the director of advocacy at Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy (RASARA), said.
“It is a really brutal way to deliver a verdict.”
She thought Lee was considered and thorough, and knows it’s normal for judges to show reasoning before concluding. But she said survivors are kept in limbo until the end, wondering and “waiting for the verdict on if somebody had believed you”.

Three years after former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins said she was raped in Parliament House, and two hours and forty minutes into handing down his judgment, Lee said the words: “Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins”.

A woman looks up to the sky.

Saxon Mullins says some survivors won’t be happy with the verdict. Source: Supplied / SBS

Lee found that on the balance of probabilities the pair did have sex at Parliament House in 2019, that Higgins did not consent, and that Lehrmann was indifferent to whether she consented.

Lee stressed that his decision was based on the civil standard of proof, not the criminal standard, emphasising the “substantive difference” between the two.
In a way, it was the most positive verdict consent advocates could have hoped for, with Lee upholding Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson’s truth defence to Lehrmann’s defamation claim.

But advocates across the country are reluctant to celebrate or call this a “win” for survivors.

A public trial of Brittany Higgins

“I’m sure a lot of survivors today don’t feel pleased about what has happened,” Mullins said.
“To get here, we had to have a public trial, not of Bruce, but of Brittany Higgins.”
Lehrmann faced a criminal trial in 2022, which collapsed after juror misconduct. A proposed retrial was abandoned after prosecutors said it would severely harm Higgins’ mental health, leaving no findings against Lehrmann. Lehrmann has always maintained his innocence.

Mullins wonders whether another public trial, this time in the form of a civil trial, was all that much different and actually spared Higgins from any mental strain.

“We had to witness this horrible cross-examination, this horrible retelling of all these moments in Brittany Higgins’s life that we had no right to delve so deep into.”
Dr Rachael Burgin, a senior lecturer at Swinburne Law School and CEO of RASARA, said: “It’s not a win because we’re still talking about the fact that somebody was raped. But it is vindication.
“It is vindication for survivors who have watched this happen and have watched Brittany Higgins be vilified in the media and essentially bullied out of the country.”

Higgins is reported to be living in France.

Survivors scared to be treated the way Higgins was

Outside the court after the finding, Wilkinson said: “I sincerely hope this judgment gives strength to women around the country.”
Karen Bevan, the CEO of Full Stop Australia, said the result is a reminder to believe women, but also that something is still really broken in the system.

“Justice for rape and sexual assault should not have to be delivered through winning a defamation proceeding against yourself for speaking your own truth,” Bevan said.

A lady in a cream suit holding a folder.

Consent advocates say it may be the best outcome they could have hoped for, some people maintained their preconceived views on the case, instead of engaging meaningfully. Source: AAP / Mick Tsikas

She can’t separate the outcome of the defamation trial from the protracted and “egregious” pile-on Higgins experienced after coming forward.

Full Stop Australia, which operates a 24/7 support line for victim-survivors of rape, sexual assault and domestic and family violence said the feedback they’ve been getting from callers shows “grave” consequences.
“People are scared of being treated the way that Brittany Higgins has been treated,” Bevan said.

“That is a chilling effect on the way victim-survivors will engage in the legal system.”

Bevan said when the odds are already stacked against survivors — with only 8 per cent of women coming forward after sexual assault and just 1.5 per cent of those cases receiving a conviction — some of the reporting on the matter stifled productive discussions on rape and consent.

A ‘trauma-informed’ judgment reminds us ‘there is no perfect victim’

Justice Lee staunchly shut down “rape myths” in his judgment, warning in his opening remarks that people who are “disposed to be sceptical about complaints of sexual assault and hold stereotyped beliefs”, described by some as “rape myths”, would prematurely dismiss his findings.
Mullins said while watching, she was comforted by his methodical dismantling of these myths and the idea that there is a “perfect victim”.
She said a trauma-informed approach, which recognises that reactions to assault can vary wildly, is crucial to having modern and nuanced discussions about rape.

“In considering the validity of Ms Higgins’ allegation, I do not consider Ms Higgins’ actions in accepting a cup of coffee or responding to emails about news alerts or requesting Mr Lehrmann’s professional help as important,” Lee said.

“On the assumption she was a victim, they can be readily characterised as the actions of a woman who had not yet come to terms with what had happened to her but needed to confront the reality that she had to work out a way of being in the same professional office as a male colleague who had assaulted her.”
In his judgment, Justice Leee rejected the idea that people must have a ‘fight or flight’ response for it to not be consensual.

“Ordinary human experience suggests sexual assault victims vary in behaviour, including during a sexual assault — the notion a woman is expected to either ‘fight or flight’ to then be accepted as having been a victim of sexual assault is not only not reasonably open but wrongheaded,” he said.

I think with sexual violence, we are almost allergic as a country to nuance when it comes to sexual violence.

Saxon Mullins, survivor and advocate

Mullins said the story had “too many layers” for some and instead of engaging meaningfully, people maintained their preconceived views on the case.
“When you think of a perfect victim, what that means to those people is a victim I agree with politically, a victim whose story doesn’t challenge me at all. A victim whose actions and history and life do not offend me in any way, and that person doesn’t exist,” she said.
“I think with sexual violence, we are almost allergic as a country to nuance,” she said.
After Higgins came forward in 2021, a s in Parliament House. Soon after, there was a major overhaul of sexual harassment laws at a federal level.
But Burgin said this is only the start for a country in need of a reckoning.
“I wish I could say that Australia had a better understanding of consent after this trial and after all of the media circus around it, but I don’t think we can,” she said.
Independent state-funded legal representation, better collaboration between police and prosecutors, more funding for crisis support and rape crisis centres are just some of the systemic reforms still needed, she said.
“I think what we do know is that lots of Australians were really willing to disbelieve a survivor and were more than willing to side with someone who’s now been found to be a rapist.”
If this story has raised any issues for you, help is available at Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you or someone you know wants to talk about sexual assault or harassment, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au In an emergency, call 000.

Emily Hudson

By Emily Hudson

Emily is a talented author who has published several bestselling novels in the mystery genre. With a knack for creating gripping plotlines and intriguing characters, Emily's works have captivated readers worldwide.

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2 thoughts on “The Epic Face-off in Bruce Lehrmann’s ‘Chillin’ Showdown: Crazy Courtroom Shenanigans!”
  1. Did Lehrmann face any legal consequences for the assault mentioned in the article?

    1. As mentioned in the article, Federal Court Justice Michael Lee concluded that Mr. Lehrmann raped Ms. Higgins. While the judgment was based on the civil standard of proof, not the criminal standard, it is significant that the assault was acknowledged in a legal context.

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