The term ‘eggshell skull’ refers to the legal principle that a victim must be accepted for who they are individually, regardless of where their strengths and weaknesses place them on a spectrum of human normality. If you strike a person whose skull happens to be as thin as an eggshell, and they break their head open and die, you can’t claim that they were not a ‘regular’ person. Full criminal liability – and responsibility – cannot be avoided because a victim is ‘weak’.
This was a really drawn out read for me – almost three months have passed since I read the first chapter. Part of this snail’s pace can be put down to bad timing; I’d finished reading Louise Milligan’s Witness less than two weeks before I started this book and it had already solidified my feelings about the way the Australian legal system chews up and spits out sexual assault survivors.
‘But what if the legal system is unfair?’
Reading about the cases that came across Bri’s desk while she was working as a judge’s associate became overwhelming at times. Some of the details were vividly described so if sexual assault is a particularly difficult topic for you, please take good care of yourself if you choose to read this book.
Bri’s experience working in the legal system offers her a different perspective than most survivors. Yet even she is not able to prepare herself for the emotional toll that her own case of historic sexual assault will have on her.
Bri is unlike so many survivors for a number of reasons.
She has the full support of her loved ones throughout the process. Many survivors do not have that luxury, having to go it alone.
She is confident that the people she tells about the sexual assault she experienced will believe her. So many survivors have not been believed when they’ve had the courage to speak out.
She reports the sexual assault to the police. “Less than one in three Australian women who are sexually assaulted ever go to the police.”
The police charge the perpetrator in Bri’s case, while “fewer than one in five sex offences reported to the police result in charges being laid and criminal proceedings being instigated.”
While I wished for less details at times when Bri was explaining the cases she worked on as a judge’s associate, I found myself wanting more details about her own court case. With such a build up throughout the book, I felt like I only managed a quick glance around the courtroom for much of the trial.
Content warnings include alcohol and other drug use, child abuse, domestic violence, eating disorders, mental health, self harm, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.
Once Upon a Blurb
EGGSHELL SKULL: A well-established legal doctrine that a defendant must ‘take their victim as they find them’. If a single punch kills someone because of their thin skull, that victim’s weakness cannot mitigate the seriousness of the crime.
But what if it also works the other way? What if a defendant on trial for sexual crimes has to accept his ‘victim’ as she comes: a strong, determined accuser who knows the legal system, who will not back down until justice is done?
Bri Lee began her first day of work at the Queensland District Court as a bright-eyed judge’s associate. Two years later she was back as the complainant in her own case.
This is the story of Bri’s journey through the Australian legal system; first as the daughter of a policeman, then as a law student, and finally as a judge’s associate in both metropolitan and regional Queensland – where justice can look very different, especially for women. The injustice Bri witnessed, mourned and raged over every day finally forced her to confront her own personal history, one she’d vowed never to tell. And this is how, after years of struggle, she found herself on the other side of the courtroom, telling her story.
Bri Lee has written a fierce and eloquent memoir that addresses both her own reckoning with the past as well as with the stories around her, to speak the truth with wit, empathy and unflinching courage. Eggshell Skull is a haunting appraisal of modern Australia from a new and essential voice.