We Spoke With Bri Lee Who’s Using Her Words To Take The Law Into Her Own Hands

We Spoke With Bri Lee Who’s Using Her Words To Take The Law Into Her Own Hands

Louder than the law

By Fiona Williams | 5th December 2019

At 27, women’s rights activist, author, writer and speaker, Bri Lee is a generation’s gutsy and ambitious voice explored sexism in the legal system alongside her own personal journey of justice. Along with making her mark through her debut memoir Eggshell Skull, came Queensland’s sexual consent law to change.

As a Judge’s Associate at the Queensland District Court, Bri started her career working with sexual assault cases which soon empowered her to acknowledge her own childhood trauma and write a book that found her changing the lives of those who are victims of sexual assault in Queensland. She is a public face for survivors of sexual assault and a voice for those who have been unable to speak up. Now, Bri is exploring another powerful experience: beauty. Exploring society’s obsession with thinness, Bri asks how the unattainable standard of perfection has become so crucial to so many.

 

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Hi Bri, what are you up to right now?
Touring my new book, Beauty, and writing every single day. I have to stay focused on the work that comes next otherwise I spend a lot of time sitting around ruminating on past mistakes or waiting for reviews. I’m finishing my Master of Philosophy with another essay and am deep in research for a novel.

Also, my research colleague Professor Jonathan Crowe and I have just finished sending off our submissions to the Queensland Law Reform Commission for their review of consent and the ‘mistake of face’ excuse. That took a lot of time and effort to put together after a massive campaign. I think the QLRC will open for public submissions soon, which will mean another round of work too.

How has releasing your book Eggshell Skull impacted your life so far?
It has completely changed my life. I knew it was a big risk to quit law, and now I have a really strong foundation in a career I genuinely never thought was possible. Also, I couldn’t have fought so hard for the QLRC referral without the platform Eggshell Skull gave me. I turned the worst thing that ever happened to me into the thing of which I’m most proud.

 

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Could you explain where the title of your book stems from?
It’s a legal maxim that means 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. As a concept it fascinated me, but as I decided to pursue my own matter through the system I wondered if it would be possible to turn it on its head – could you be a strong and supported and determined “victim” that made the defendant regret choosing you?

One of the most poignant parts of your own journey was writing Eggshell Skull whilst going through your own court case — how did you manage the two whilst going through such a difficult time?
I found writing it all out helped me process what was happening. Sitting in court hearing my own matter discussed as though I wasn’t there was sometimes really gutting – taking notes throughout helped me try to be calm and rational throughout. I also knew I had an avenue through which I could actually be heard and respected, which is a feeling survivors don’t often get in our current legal process.

You have just released your new book, Beauty, what was the motivation behind writing this?
It’s something I’ve always struggled with – both on a practical level with regards to my own attitudes and behaviours, but also from a philosophical perspective. Why do we think some bodies are worth more than others? What do our priorities tell us about how we think of gender, class, and race? And how do our behaviours communicate our values to the people around us – how are we all complicit? It’s a huge topic I knew no single person could ever cover comprehensively; I just hope I’ve been able to make some kind of small contribution.

 

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Could you tell us about some of the awards you have won? How have they made you feel?
I think it’s five now, which is just mind-blowing. Honestly, nobody has been more surprised than I by the success Eggshell Skull has had. One of the earliest ones was at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, and I remember that was the moment I realised my book had reached beyond Brisbane and told a wider story about issues all over Australia. Awards make me feel like I made the right decision when I took that leap and changed careers and have given me a lot of confidence.

What are you most proud of throughout your journey?
Honestly, more than awards, the emails and letters I get from Eggshell Skull readers are the most meaningful thing. I have hundreds, maybe thousands now. Many people write to me with specific examples of how they’ve changed their lives after reading my book – told someone about something that happened to them, gone to the police, or contributed to advocacy where they are. I cry all the time when I read them. This, and the QLRC referral, are the things of which I am most proud.

Is there anything else you want people to look out for?
Please keep an eye on when the public submissions to the QLRC open in November and December! This is an historic moment when we have the opportunity to tell the government what we think respectful relationships actually look like. Your voices and your stories have weight. Use them if you feel you can!

 

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Quick fire questions:

What are some of your favourite places to visit when in Brisbane?
I come home to visit family and do events all the time! West End and Avid Reader bookstore, absolutely.

Where would we find you at a party?
The food table!

Favourite label to wear over and over?
Romance Was Born

What song best depicts your life?
Hard tie between Yanada by The Preatures and The Chain by Fleetwood Mac

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Article by Fiona Williams

Fiona is a Journalist and Food Writer who grew up in Adelaide. From Sydney to Brisbane to Canberra and now back to Brisbane, she now calls our wonderful city home. She’s a beauty fanatic obsessed with rose hip oil and she’s definitely made up of at least 80% dry shampoo. A lifelong campaigner against the word ‘good’, Fi (as she likes to be called) loves nothing more than using juicy adjectives and putting honey in her tea.