Eggshell Skull

By Bri Lee Allen & Unwin

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

Bri Lee is a writer and editor whose work has been published in The GuardianGriffith Review, the VICE network and elsewhere, and she regularly appears on ABC Radio. In 2016 Bri was the recipient of the inaugural Kat Muscat Fellowship, and in 2017 was one of Griffith Review‘s Queensland writing fellows. She is the founding editor of the quarterly print periodical Hot Chicks with Big Brains, which has published nonfiction about women and their work since 2015. In 2018 Bri received a Commonwealth Government of Australia scholarship and stipend to work on her second book at the University of Queensland. She is qualified to practice law, but doesn’t.

Judges' report

This is a compelling and brilliantly observed first-hand account of the vagaries of our legal system, particularly for women in sexual assault cases.

For a year, law graduate Bri Lee was the associate of an unnamed District Court judge in Brisbane. She accompanies the judge through regional Queensland watching and listening as justice appears to be an unattainable outcome for endless young victims of sexual assault. From her elevated position in the court room, Lee provides a moving and vivid account of the struggles of these women trying to obtain justice when the odds are stacked against them.

Lee silently rages and fumes while appearing to outsiders as a dispassionate participant in the judicial system. In the darkness of her own life, full of self-loathing from her own experience as a victim, Lee embarks upon her own pursuit of justice against her perpetrator.

The individual court-room dramas are beautifully observed and, as a reader, you find yourself, heart in mouth, waiting to hear the verdicts.

This is a powerful and moving debut which employs a compelling symmetry as Lee moves from an observer to a participant in her own quest for justice.

Further reading


‘This book sears with white-hot feminist rage: at the reverberation of the abuse in her daily life; at the injustices of the legal system, the obtuseness of its bureaucracies, the institutional violence it perpetrates against victims.’ Alison Huber, Readings

‘Blow-by-blow details of the confronting cases coupled with the writer’s trauma make for a relentless read, but the book is at its strongest when its charting the minutiae of how women are gaslit by men and the system alike.’ Sonia Nair, Books+Publishing

‘Written with raw energy and cool intelligence, Eggshell Skull reminds us of the prevalence of abuse and injustice in our communities and demonstrates the immense courage and determination necessary to combat it.’ Ashley Kalagian, Newtown Review of Books

‘Lee is clear-eyed and sometimes scathing about a system where “a wreck of a car is evidence, but the wrecked body of a woman isn’t”. At the same time, her respect for legal processes turns this into a complicated memoir of the law as it is lived.’ The Saturday Paper

‘This book is for all of those too afraid to speak out, fearful that they will not be believed.’ Astrid Edwards, The Garrett


Read ‘Burden of Proof: Bri Lee’s Egshell Skull’ in Kill Your Darlings

Read ‘Reporting my sexual assault was horrific but healing. Here’s what I learned’ by Bri Lee in Guardian Australia

Read ‘Sharing our stories is the strength at the heart of #MeToo’ by Bri Lee in Guardian Australia