Title: Eggshell Skull
Author: Bri Lee
Published: 23 May 2018
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Category: Non-fiction, memoir, social commentary
** Trigger warning: This review mentions sexual abuse and rape**
Bri Lee’s Eggshell Skull is an answer to anyone who ever asks why a woman (or less often, a man) doesn’t report sexual abuse or rape, or doesn’t pursue the matter through the legal system even if they do.
Lee does not sugar coat what happens. The wheels of justice turn slowly, and the wheels of justice are not always fair.
Eggshell Skull is a personal story. Lee, a judge’s associate working in the Queensland District Court, lodged an historical sex abuse claim against a friend of her family. Her claim took more than two years to wind its way through the system, and the process – despite having a supportive family and partner – was not an easy one. Lee does not hide the emotional toll coming to terms with her abuse took on her, manifesting as anxiety, self-harm and disordered eating.
Eggshell Skull is also the story of everyone who has ever pursued what recourse is available for victims of sexual abuse and rape in the Australian legal system. And it is this story – or rather, these stories – that make Eggshell Skull so powerful.
Lee’s insights from her vantage point within the system are incisive.
We learn she ‘lost count, throughout the year, of the number of women who excused themselves from sex crime trials because they themselves were survivors’ (p. 22). Ponder what this means: Lee is saying we have a justice system reliant on community, but so many of our community are victims themselves, and they end up recusing themselves from juries deliberating sex crimes because it would trigger their own pain.
We also learn how common it is for the defence to challenge (and remove) as many women as possible from a jury deliberating a sex crime, because women are more likely to believe the accuser, especially in cases when the ‘nice guy’ is alleged to have committed the crime.
Most disheartening of all, we learn it is commonly accepted there needs to be at least four women on a jury in order for their voices to be heard, even behind the closed doors of jury deliberations.
This book is for all of those too afraid to speak out, fearful that they will not be believed. It is also for any woman who finds herself called to jury duty. Don’t recuse yourself: so many other women need you to hear them and speak up for them in that jury room.
I recommend you move Eggshell Skull to the top of your to be read pile. That said, Lee’s account of the way justice is so often not done comes with a trigger warning. If reading this book is not for you, this is the book to buy for your sister, daughter, mother, lover, friend, wife or partner.
And in case you are wondering, ‘eggshell skull’ refers to the legal doctrine that means a defendant ‘must take their victim as they find them’, whether that is as weak as an eggshell or as strong as Bri Lee.