'Why Justice Lee's verdict left me devastated.'

This story discusses sexual assault. 

This week's judgement in the defamation case instigated by Bruce Lehrmann is being touted as a win for women. And it was. Yet, my reaction was to curl up in bed and cry uncontrollably over it.

In 2019 our family spent a week in a courtroom, taking the witness stand to prove that an ex-family friend had sexually assaulted our then eight-year-old daughter and attempted to abuse her a second time when she was nine. 

My daughter was 18 by the time we had our day in court yet was offered the opportunity to testify via CCTV from a secure room, because of the case being about a childhood assault. She bravely chose to do it in person. 

In the weeks leading up to the trial, she'd been given a chance to watch the video recording of her statement given to the police a few years earlier. Afterwards she said, "I looked really young in that video, Mum. My whole body was shaking. But I’m not that person anymore. I don’t want to be scared of him. I want the jury to see my face and know what he did to me."

She didn't need to be scared of her attacker anymore. He was a weak, pathetic man who preyed on tiny children. However, she should have been scared of the courtroom. And we all should have feared his defence lawyer. 

That week was the most traumatic of all our lives, causing potentially more damage than the assault that instigated it. My daughter spent two days on the stand being yelled at, baited, tormented, accused of ruining her family's lives, and ridiculed when she cried. Notes from her private counselling sessions were read out in court. Notes obtained by the defence lawyer just weeks before laws were passed that could have allowed us to protect her privacy. My husband and I sat outside the doors, banned from the room because we were witnesses, hearing her sobs, feeling futile and frustrated. When the judge called for a break to allow our child time to calm down, I hugged her briefly. The defence lawyer immediately intervened, and I was cautioned that if I touched my daughter again, I’d be held in contempt of court, as she was still his witness. 


At the end of the trial, we opted to stay home for the reading of the judgement. My husband and I couldn't trust our reactions if he'd been found not guilty. I'll always regret that. I wish I'd been there to see his face when the jury came back, after only two hours and unanimously declared him guilty. When the prosecutor called us with the news, my husband, daughter, and 15-year-old son hugged and wept with relief. 

Watch: Lisa Wilkinson Hails Bruce Lehrmann Verdict Outside Court. Post continues after video.

Video via 10 News First.

That relief diminished the following week when he was sentenced to just four months' jail time. Four months. Yet we were told to celebrate the victory, as historical child abuse cases like ours were notoriously hard to win. 

He appealed the decision the following month, yet the appellate court didn't release their findings until six months later. Life had taken on a semblance of normalcy when I received the call, letting us know that the man, who a jury of our peers had found guilty, was now acquitted. Two of the three male appellate judges didn't agree with the jury’s verdict.

In telling me the news, the court clerk said, "This doesn't mean he's not guilty. It only means there were issues in the proceedings that the judges felt invalidated the jury's decision. You could take some comfort in knowing that the court held this judgement until after he'd served his time in jail. Some might view that as knowing he was guilty but being forced to rule against it."

There was zero comfort in that. It didn't ease my daughter’s pain when I told her the court didn’t believe her. I was not thankful to those faceless judges while I held daughter as she cried, asking "What was the point of it all?". All I could think was — our legal system is broken. 

While I admire what Justice Michael Lee did this week in declaring that, on the balance of probability, Bruce Lehrmann did in fact rape Brittany Higgins, I wonder if it has comforted her at all. I wonder if she felt vindicated or infuriated. After years of public ridicule, scrutiny, and disgusting abuse, I would not blame Brittany for feeling fury at our broken system.


As the mother of a child who had her tiny victory taken away from her, after years of suffering from the actions of a pathetic, weak man, I don't feel vindicated. As a victim of rape myself, who at age 21, while recovering from an assault that left me bleeding internally, was told by a policeman there was no point pressing charges, because I'd let my attacker buy me a drink in a bar earlier that night, I don't feel vindicated. As a person who is utterly exhausted by the endless cycle of violence against women and our society's disregard for it, I do not feel vindicated. 

I was unable to work this week. I spent it in bed, crying and watching musicals, desperately trying to distract myself from getting in the car and committing a crime against the man who hurt my little girl. 

I wonder if that would have made me feel vindicated. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

Feature Image: Canva.