By Georgia Nelson
“How long can a secret lie dormant before it bursts up and out, unable to be contained?”
The answer: too long.
In the era of #MeToo, Bri Lee’s Eggshell Skull provides a compelling, sometimes bleak, but much-needed insight into the realities of sexual assault survivors and the complex and often unjust processes they are faced with when reporting their perpetrators.
Lee details her experience as a recently graduated lawyer in Queensland; the horrors of the rape trials of children, women and men she worked with from her very first day as a judge’s associate, the exploitation of some of her female colleagues, and how these experiences brought back memories of her own childhood trauma. She writes with an eloquence that perfectly illustrates her own frustration, isolation and faltering hope in the system that she has pledged to honour and uphold.
The book itself is almost as complex as the system about which she is writing – a memoir on the surface, but delving into and picking apart the injustices of rape culture and sexual violence. Why is it that victims of these horrific crimes have their characters questioned in the process? It is taxing enough on those who decide to come forward and report their aggressors to authorities. But then they are faced with hours of questioning, going over the details of the worst moments of their lives, right down to the exact hour, the exact place, and how long they were forced to endure it.
It is as though they themselves are on trial. And as Lee points out, sex crimes are the only crimes where the victim has to prove it happened. Unlike a car break in, or a theft, the victim’s statement – and often DNA evidence – is deemed unworthy when it comes to ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. For so many the crime only ‘allegedly’ happened, at least until they can prove that they did not consent. But how can you prove you didn’t consent when you were ‘baring too much skin’, are portrayed as ‘promiscuous’ due to your history of sexual partners, or find it difficult to muster the strength to report the crime years after it happened when it is just your word against theirs?
It is this scrutinizing process that makes survivors uncertain as to how to act. It made Lee doubt herself, to the point of self-harm and left her questioning if it was really worth reporting the boy she knew as a child, and if he really did assault her on that trampoline all those years ago. But it is something that has altered her life, and her mental health, since it happened.
“The ugly parts of my life kept crashing into the beautiful ones.”
One thing is for certain: Lee is not alone. All survivors are forced to live with the trauma of their past and present. It continues to haunt them until it affects all aspects of their lives. Lee’s story is shared by thousands of others all over the world. In Australia alone, an estimated 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have experienced sexual violence. What makes this story so powerful though is the raw and personal account of the trauma, hesitation and resilience that survivors like Lee deal with when pursuing justice.
Lee’s law-based background echoes Jon Krakauer’s in his novel Missoula, provoking and questioning the morals around which a society’s laws are based. And it’s almost like a domino effect. Each conviction gives another victim the strength to step forward and report their abuse, the same premise that #MeToo is based upon. But what is showcased in both instances is the inconsistency of the justice system. A guilty verdict in one case does not guarantee a guilty verdict for a similar crime.
It may be a hard reality to face, but Eggshell Skull is a story that needs to be read widely. The material is very graphic in parts. Even if you find yourself having to put it down at times it is important to remember that these things do happen. To the little girl with the unkempt hair who lives two doors down from you. To the farmer, who stands tall next to his wife and child, but crumbles in the courtroom as he confronts his childhood abuser. To your mum, your cousin, your best friend.
These abhorrent acts can no longer be swept under the rug. The perpetrators need to be held accountable, not their victims. And this book is here to do just that.
Find out more about Bri Lee here: https://www.bri-lee.com
Watch a video on why she wrote Eggshell Skull here: https://youtu.be/FcOiliT_mro