00:16, May 03 264 0 theguardian.com

2019-05-03 00:16:05
Eggshell Skull has won another award – it would have been illegal to publish it if I lived in Tasmania

This week my book, Eggshell Skull, was awarded the 2019 Biography Book of the Year Award at the Australian Book Industry Awards ceremony, yet if I lived in Tasmania or the Northern Territory it would have been illegal for me to ever have even written or published it.

Archaic laws in those two jurisdictions dictate that it is illegal for the survivors of sex crimes to identify themselves publicly.

I’ve written about it once before, and there’s currently a huge campaign to fight against it: #LetHerSpeak. After much hard work by Nina Funnell (among others), the Tasmanian government is finally accepting submissions from survivors, academics, legal professionals, and the public, about what to do with this absurd section of the Evidence Act 2001. If you have time before Friday 10 May, please write to them.

Almost a year has passed since my book first came out and in that time it has changed my life. I have correspondence from hundreds of people who say it has changed theirs.

The ABIA is the fourth major award I’ve won, I’ve been longlisted and shortlisted for many others, and the book is a bestseller. I write this to draw attention to the absolute absurdity that my fellow survivors in Tasmania and the Northern Territory have to suffer in silence.

How many people are these pathetic, outdated laws stopping from telling their stories? It is shameful that it has taken so long for any action to be taken.

Lots of young women send me direct messages on social media, many of them mentioning the abuse or assault they have survived, and many of them saying that reading my book made them finally feel determined to tell their partners, families, or the police, about that part of their personal history. I have hand-written letters in the mail from people double (one almost triple) my age, who either are or have known survivors of institutional abuse, who talk about how much hope it gives them to see these issues being aired openly. After emailing back-and-forth with one woman, whose treatment by her investigating officer was clearly sub-par, she reported his behaviour, got it covered by a media outlet, and the officer’s conduct is now under review. This is a domino effect that must begin somewhere.

The single most moving piece of correspondence I have ever received went for just four lines. A woman had decided to seek counselling about abuse that had happened in her family 50 years ago. That woman had been keeping a secret for almost twice the amount of time I’ve been walking on this planet. If I grew up in Hobart instead of Brisbane, I couldn’t have reached that woman, and couldn’t have changed either of our lives.

I’ve spoken on television a few times, radio countless times, I’ve addressed thousands of adults and hundreds of students. I’ve met with MPs and senior policy advisors. I played a part in the campaign to change the law in Queensland to make rape kits available to survivors regardless of whether or not they have yet decided to make a formal police complaint – finally bringing the state in line with best practices elsewhere.

I couldn’t have done any of this if I wasn’t allowed to talk about my own story.

When I was a few chapters into the first draft of Eggshell Skull, and was pitching it to publishers, there was not yet any talk of Harvey Weinstein; the #MeToo movement was years away from reaching the critical mass we saw in late 2017. I will always feel lucky and grateful that the year my book was released so perfectly coincided with the time at which people’s ears were newly open to these conversations.

Winning the ABIA, in the middle of the #LetHerSpeak campaign, was a proud moment tinged with bitterness. As a young author, it means everything to me, knowing I have reached people and not only made them feel, but also made them act. I got to control my story; my narrative was one of strength and it has inspired strength in others.

Lately I think about how it would feel to have people tell me that sharing my story on my terms might be illegal. When I consider the prospect of the man who was convicted of sex offences against me being able to talk publicly about “his side of the story” or anything similar, when I might be unable to, I feel furious and sick. That’s what happened to Jane Doe in Tasmania.

This is a pathetic law, and it is obviously overdue for complete revision. Shame on Tasmania and the Northern Territory for every extra day they force survivors –gladiators of the modern day – to remain silent. How many of them could or should have been up at the podium at that ABIA awards ceremony, if only they were allowed to write? How dare we not let them speak.

  • Bri Lee is the author of Eggshell Skull