Law Analysis

These are things that women go through: The Lehrmann trial

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(Image by Dan Jensen)

Bruce Lehrmann's defamation case against Network Ten has seen the alleged victim, Brittany Higgins, again subjected to relentless cross-examination and accusations. Michelle Pini reports.

* CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape 

A SHORT TIME into his cross-examination of Brittany Higgins yesterday, Steven Whybrow SC, accused her of having about “200,000 reasons” to be interested in the outcome of the court proceedings.

Whybrow was referring to the details of an as-yet-unfulfilled book deal Ms Higgins had secured but it’s unlikely even one of Lehrmann’s gun legal team – comprising four barristers – anticipated her answer:

“You can take it under oath that if the book ever eventuates, I will give it all to charity...I don’t care about the money.”

As Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson plays out for all to see, courtesy of the live Federal Court footage, several things are already clear.

Even without his own admission that he had lied in several instances, Mr Lehrmann’s befuddled testimony displays a plethora of versions of events accompanied by unequivocal denials of almost everything — even things clearly established by CCTV footage, for example.

Possibly it was the Dunning-Kruger effect that caused Lehrmann to assume he could choose the particular tale that painted him in the most flattering light while on the stand. Maybe he simply forgot that the different versions of his testimony would likely be compared, especially when there are so many on the public record. Either way, Lehrmann squirmed, and swapped and changed his explanations as though he was expecting the court proceedings to be staged in much the same way as his “exclusive” Channel Seven interviews, complete with final editing rights, perhaps. 

Ms Higgins, meanwhile, while distressed, managed to speak about all the relevant events with clarity. She has said she is certain only when that has been the case, admitting to being unsure about the timing of specific details. Higgins was candid and unwavering about being raped by Lehrmann and about never having given consent, but she did not pretend to be certain about the circumstances surrounding her arrival at Parliament House on the night of the alleged rape, for example.

Nonetheless, the cross-examination continued relentlessly, with counsel for the plaintiff suggesting she fabricated the sexual assault just to keep her job. 

Higgins, while shaken and crying, held her nerve, replying that the suggestion was “insulting and it's incorrect” and adding that her job was “not that important”.

Whybrow attacked Higgins' account of her state of undress in Parliament House and whether her dress was around her waist or if she was naked, to which Higgins replied:

“As I was being raped, it wasn’t my primary concern where my dress was … I was deeply more concerned about the penis in my vagina that I didn’t want, than I was about my dress.”

This is, after all, how our memory generally works. We remember if we got run over but probably not how we ended up in hospital. 

Lehrmann in the witness box, however, is a clear example of the fact that only one in a hundred people have an autobiographical memory and that he is not one of them. On the one hand, he claimed to have complete amnesia about any manner of inconvenient details, while on the other, so many of his claims about which he was unequivocal were clearly shown to be false by the evidence but still, he maintained total certainty. If it were a pantomime, we may have heard his lawyers shouting: “Stop! Look behind you — it's on the video!”

Questionable stories aside, it was also revealed during the defamation proceedings that the Seven Network is footing the bill for Lehrmann's luxury beachside accommodation in Sydney's north shore for $2,500 per week. 

Given that Lehrmann is now purportedly unemployed, who is footing the bill for his multiple barristers and associated legal accessories has not yet been established.

Nor has it been established who will be covering the legal costs in separate criminal proceedings against Lehrmann, concerning a different alleged rape in Toowoomba.

The legacy media, apparently led by the Seven Network in this case, have painted a picture of Lehrmann – who has consistently denied the rape allegations and whose criminal trial was abandoned due to jury misconduct – unfairly having to face a "de facto rape trial".

The alleged victim has endured a rape in her place of employment, where she should be the most protected, where she was left semi-conscious, in a state of undress. She has suffered mental health issues from the trauma of that alleged event. Ms Higgins gave evidence of the hurt she felt when she was abandoned and ostracised in a hostile workplace by her employers, for speaking out. 

Higgins also alleged that during the first meeting in the office of her then-boss Senator Linda Reynolds following the alleged rape, Reynolds told her:

"These are things that women go through."

Higgins says the Liberal Party later tried to "make it all go away" before Reynolds first called her a "lying cow" and then took legal proceedings against her.

The alleged victim then had to endure an aborted trial for jury misconduct and now, she has to give evidence yet again, recalling the whole sordid business in harrowing detail as she is cross-examined by male barristers, while on livestream.

Regardless of the version of events that happens to succeed at the conclusion of these civil proceedings, it is important to remember that Mr Lehrmann's so-called proxy rape trial, in this case, is of his own choosing.

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online.

You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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