Protests kick off in Australia amid growing anger over rape accusations

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Thousands protested in Australia’s Perth on Sunday, kicking off a nationwide campaign for gender equality as anger swells over rape accusations that have rocked the country’s halls of power.

The Western Australian city launched the #March4Justice with a packed rally where people chanted “enough is enough” and held up placards demanding action to address sexual violence against women, local media reported.

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More than 40 protests will be held across the country Monday, including outside Parliament House in Canberra, where the government has been roiled by sexual assault accusations in recent weeks.

Former government staffer Brittany Higgins publicly came forward last month to allege she had been raped by a colleague in a minister’s office weeks before the 2019 election and then treated like a “political problem” when she told her bosses.

Attorney-General Christian Porter, who is from Perth, was then accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in 1988 when they were both students.

He denies the allegations, which she took to police before her death last year, and the investigation has been closed.

Growing public outrage at the cases, and a perceived failure by the government to address them, has prompted many to hit the streets calling for justice.

Indigenous Noongar woman Dallas Phillips was among those who spoke in Perth, describing the “red-hot anger” of those who have suffered abuse.

“I applaud Brittany Higgins and other young women for calling this out and making a brave stand,” WAToday quoted her as saying.

“There is an epidemic of sexism, of misogyny, of male privilege and entitlement, of toxic masculinity in this country. Compared to this epidemic, COVID is trivial,” she said.

Under growing pressure, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Sunday he was prepared to meet with a delegation from the movement, adding that his government was “very focused” on addressing their concerns.

“Right now, the issue of violence against women continues to be a very high priority of my government,” he told reporters in Sydney.

Australia’s parliament has been repeatedly criticized for a “toxic” workplace culture that has allegedly spawned persistent bullying, harassment and sexual assault.

The ruling coalition has been accused of not doing enough to support female party members, including after a spate of women quit parliament ahead of the 2019 election, with several citing bullying as a factor.

Porter remains on medical leave in the wake of the allegations, as is Defense Minister Linda Reynolds, who is accused of mishandling Higgins’ case.

Morrison has ordered an independent inquiry into the workplace culture at parliament.

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