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Women march for justice in Australia as rape claims hit highest levels of office

Tens of thousands of people marched in Australia on March 15, to call for gender equality and justice for sexual assault victims. (Video: Reuters)

SYDNEY — Thousands of people took to the streets across Australian cities on Monday calling for an end to violence against women.

Some wore black face masks with the words: “Enough is Enough.” Others carried placards decrying misogyny, victim-blaming, abuse and rape. In Melbourne, a banner listed 900 women who have lost their lives at the hands of men since 2008.

The rallies follow a wave of allegations of sexual assault, abuse and misconduct in some of the highest offices of Australian politics. They come amid a growing global movement demanding officials do more to protect women and to hold perpetrators of harassment and assaults accountable.

In Britain, thousands attended a vigil Saturday in London for Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old marketing executive whose kidnapping and killing shocked the nation. Many women took to social media to share their stories of what it is like to be harassed or attacked by men — especially when traveling alone.

London Metropolitan Police under pressure over clashes at Sarah Everard vigil

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday that New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) should seriously consider whether he can continue to govern effectively as he faces multiple sexual harassment allegations. A majority of the New York congressional delegation has now called for Cuomo’s resignation, and the New York State Assembly authorized an investigation into the allegations against the governor last week, the first step toward possible impeachment.

Australia has tended to lag behind other Western countries on gender issues. It ranked 44th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report in 2020, sliding from previous ranks in 2018 and 2006. Paul Hogan’s reptile-wrestling tough guy from the 1986 movie “Crocodile Dundee” typified Australia’s reputation for “mateship,” a creed of male friendship that often excludes women.

In February, however, a former government staff member went public with an account of being raped in Australia’s Parliament building, sending shock waves through the country’s halls of power.

“We are all here today not because we want to be here, but because we have to be here,” the former staff member, Brittany Higgins, told a crowd gathered on the lawns in front of Australia’s Parliament on Monday. “We fundamentally recognize the system is broken, the glass ceiling is still in place and there are significant failings in the power structures within our institutions.”

Higgins, who is 26, filed a police complaint last month alleging she was attacked by a colleague nearly two years ago after a night out drinking. In the days after she went public, three other women came forward, telling news outlets that the same man, a former employee of Australia’s ruling conservative party, had sexually assaulted them. The man hasn’t been publicly identified.

British police clash with mourners honoring slain London woman despite covid restrictions

The reckoning over assault allegations has reached the highest ranks of government. On Monday, the country’s top law official filed a defamation suit against the state broadcaster over an article that reported a letter had been sent to the prime minister containing a historic rape allegation.

Christian Porter, the attorney general, has strenuously denied an allegation that he raped a 16-year-old in January 1988, when he was 17. His lawyers said Monday that he had been subject to “trial by media.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted calls for an independent inquiry to help determine whether Porter is a fit and proper person to remain as attorney general. In February, he was criticized for suggesting that he consulted his wife on the appropriate response to the alleged 2019 Parliament House rape incident.

Morrison did not attend Monday’s rally, and he drew criticism from opposition lawmakers for saying in Parliament that the day’s events were a “triumph of democracy” because such marches “are being met with bullets” in other countries.

An online petition, addressed to Morrison and calling for independent investigations into gender violence in politics and the removal of perpetrators from positions of power, has garnered more than 90,000 signatures.

London Metropolitan Police under pressure over clashes at Sarah Everard vigil

British police clash with mourners honoring slain London woman despite covid restrictions

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