His words, critics said, were reluctant and patronizing. Worse, they revealed a disturbing sentiment: that when a woman is raped, and unable to enlist the support of her colleagues to bring the perpetrator to justice, the blame lies not with the accused, or the victim’s superiors, but with her. As Ms. Higgins herself said in a statement released last week, “The continued victim-blaming rhetoric by the Prime Minister is personally very distressing to me and countless other survivors.”
Mr. Morrison and others have not expressly blamed Ms. Higgins for having become too inebriated on the night she says she was raped, or for what she wore that evening — such obvious victim blaming belongs in the past. But they insinuate that the fault lies with her, women’s rights advocates say, by couching her allegations in terms of Ms. Higgins’s perception of the attack and her emotions in response to what followed.
As Jacqueline Maley wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald, “It may not have been deliberate, but the persistent use of Higgins’ first name, and Morrison’s comments about consulting his wife Jenny on how to handle the alleged rape, all gave the impression that this was a matter to do with Women’s Feelings.”
“Women’s Feelings,” she explains, “is a private emotional realm, tricky to navigate and best left to the ladies. It has little to do with male leaders, and nothing to do with important matters of state.” The problem, she adds, with this characterization is that it “minimizes what should be an obvious point: rape is a crime.”
Part of the problem is cultural, experts say. Australia has a dearth of sex education, so it should be no surprise that Mr. Morrison, the leader of among the most male-dominated spaces in the country, can’t fully comprehend issues of consent, or articulate an appropriately condemning response, they add.