An Australian rape case that sparked national protests will not return to court after a mistrial, because of fears the intense public scrutiny could have a grave toll on the accuser's mental health, prosecutors said Friday.
Former political aide Brittany Higgins, 27, alleged that fellow conservative staffer Bruce Lehrmann, 27, raped her on a couch inside the parliament office of a cabinet minister following a night of heavy drinking in March 2019.
The allegations first came to light through media reports in early 2021 and -- on the back of the global #MeToo movement -- sparked nationwide protests and multiple damning investigations into Australia's political culture.
The court case ended in a mistrial earlier this year after a courtroom sheriff discovered a jury member with a copy of a document that was prohibited by the trial's strict rules.
Public prosecutor Shane Drumgold said plans for a second trial had been shelved to protect Higgins' health.
"The ongoing trauma associated with this prosecution presents a significant and unacceptable risk to the life of the complainant," he said.
"I have made the difficult decision that it is no longer in the public interest to pursue a prosecution at the risk of the complainant's life."
Shortly after Higgins' allegations were aired, some 100,000 people marched in cities across Australia in demonstrations against sexual violence.
Five separate investigations followed, collectively delivering a scathing indictment on the frequently sexist nature of Australian politics.
Drumgold said Higgins had suffered an unprecedented level of abuse after coming forward with her allegations.
"Ms Higgins has faced a level of personal attack that I have not seen in over 20 years of doing this work.
"She has done so with bravery, grace and dignity, and it is my hope that this will now stop and Ms Higgins will be allowed to heal."
Earlier this year, Higgins sobbed as she spoke outside court following the mistrial, saying she had "told the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or unflattering to the court".
"I chose to speak up. To speak up and share my experiences with others," she said.
"He never faced one question in court about his story and the criminal charges."
Lehrmann denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent.