Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee, published by Allen & Unwin
Reviewed by Dr Zewlan Moor @ByronBiblioTherapy
Statistics show that about 1-in-5 women experience sexual assault (ABS - Personal Safety Survey, 2012) yet only 1-in-6 reports to police of rape and less than 1-in-7 reports of incest or sexual penetration of a child result in prosecution (Sexual Offences: Law & Procedure Final Report, Victorian Law Reform Commission, 2004).
This book, shortlisted for the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and Indie Book Awards, tells a personal story behind those figures. It starts off as a journey into the working life of a young, idealistic law graduate who lands a prestigious job as a judge’s associate and then does the rounds of the District Courts in rural Queensland.
It’s easy to be cynical when hearing about ridiculously short sentences for horrific crimes. What is intriguing is the actual machinations of the legal system, such as the way defence lawyers stage delay after delay in the hope of the prosecution giving up. The process of jury selection is also abominable, with most females and educated prospects being sent home. It is definitely a case of “a jury of one’s peers”, if peers means other men who think it’s fine to get a bit rough with women.
Out of all her case studies, there was one happy story of a childhood sexual assault perpetrator being found guilty - not surprisingly, in that case the victim was a man.
Just when you’re thinking the legal system can’t still be that bad you realise this was all happening as recently as 2016… and still?
The rest of the memoir switches to Lee’s personal history, ending with her sitting on the other side of the courtroom, watching the impassive face of another judge’s associate. Along the way, she explores the complexities of dissociation involved in coping with trauma. In particular, she found it hard to simultaneously show her vulnerabilities, but also present as a resilient fighter.
As the back cover blurb explains, ‘Eggshell Skull’ is a well-established legal doctrine that a defendant must ‘take their victim as they find them’. The effect of sexual assault on a woman is devastating and potentially catastrophic for the more vulnerable. For some women the effects may be delayed for years. In any event the assailant is responsible for the consequences of his action, however minor or horrific they may finally turn out to be.
This book will help you empathise with victims of sexual assault and those individuals who do not wanted to report sexual assault to the police. It will make you want to fight for law reform. I am so happy that this brave, articulate woman wrote this compelling page-turner.
Prescribed for: Medical professionals working at the coalface of sexual assault, e.g. GPs
Dr Zewlan Moor is a leader in the field of bibliotherapy in Australia. She draws on the vast resources of literature to help her patients understand and deal with their suffering and transitioning through life's vicissitudes.