Teaching Sexual Assault

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14 Responses

  1. nidefatt says:

    Here’s an idea: Introduce it using a voir dire from a defense attorney. If you think your job is hard, imagine what it’s like for us that TRY these cases in front of 12 people who are NOT volunteers.

  2. One thing that gives the sexual assault class an added sensitivity requirement is that you can be pretty sure no one in the class has been murdered, but it’s quite possible (likely, even?) in a large class that someone has been sexually assaulted. Even if you extend the consideration to people knowing someone who was a victim, rapes are much more common, yet harder to talk about. I’d be more likely to share that a friend was murdered than raped, because it’s less of a private thing. So perhaps there’s a gendered element to it, but I think there’s more to it than that, for sure.

  3. Stephanie says:

    One note, not only women can be raped and sexually assaulted.

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  5. npm says:

    You can be sure no one in the class has been murdered, but they might have been close to someone who was. From a This American Life episode (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/342/transcript) on the subject:

    Ira Glass: “You know how murder figures into so much of American pop culture? On crime shows, and thrillers, and video games and all kinds of stuff. Well, if you knew somebody who actually got murdered, it turns out you might not be into that stuff so much. … Rachel Howard’s dad was killed when she was 10.”

    Rachel Howard: “You know, at the Parents of Murdered Children Conference, they have certain presentations really down to give you a little punch in the gut. And one of them is that they have a whole one on this murder mystery dinners. And the way that they always do it is they say, let’s just pretend that you were going to have a rape mystery dinner and you were going to show up and the rule of the game was going to be that someone’s been raped, and we’re all going to find the rapist. That wouldn’t go over.”

  6. Schedlinski says:

    There is at least an argument that someone who takes the trouble to sharpen a screwdriver to a blade and threatens another person with it is not completely “unarmed.”

  7. Steve says:

    Are you familiar with James J. Tomkovicz, On Teaching Rape: Reasons, Risks, and Rewards, 102 YALE L.J.. 481 (1992)? Some valuable lessons in there.

  8. I’m hoping that my comment with the link is just in moderation …

  9. I’ll try again without the link:

    The reason rape, in particular, is different:

    Everyone knows someone who’s been raped, though they may not be aware of it (yet: they’re young).

    It is a statistical certainty that at least one person, probably a woman, in your classroom has been raped. It is very unlikely that she reported the crime, and even less likely that it made it all the way through to a conviction. Use Daly & Bouhours [Crime and Justice Vol. 39, No. 1 (2010), pp. 565-650] as your starting point.

    Further, the chances are that around one out of 20 males has raped someone, and has not been caught — so there’s a nontrivial chance that there’s a rapist in your classroom, though he may not think of himself in those terms. It is pretty much a certainty, though, that everyone in the classroom knows a rapist.

    Now, I’m not 100% sure that you *have* to call on volunteers, theoretically. It’s *conceivable* that if you start with Daly & Bouhours and discuss the meta issue, “how do we talk about this major crime, one so common yet unprosecuted that this room doubtless includes victims and may possibly include perps”, you could come up with a framework for discussion that doesn’t rely on self-selection.

    And if you did, it would be a pedogogical breakthrough worth writing up for the literature. It’s certainly better than ignoring the issue, which is damn close to educational malpractice.

  10. Anna says:

    Although I understand the reasoning behind your approach, calling on the volunteers in a first year law school class is concerning to me. The volunteers in a 1L class tend to be the most extreme or outspoken – i.e. the people no one takes seriously/rolls their eyes at…

    Why make sexual assault different than other crimes? If sexual assault/rape is a crime, than treat it as such. Why aren’t you similarly concerned that someone might have been carjacked/kidnapped/assaulted? (In law school, I made a terrible terrorism joke only to be excoriated because a sectio nmate’s family member had been killed by a terrorist.)

    When you treat a certain class of crime as “special” or “different” in your teaching, you are indicating that it is different from a “normal” crime. In my opinion, in order for rape and sexual assault to be normalized as “real” crimes, you have to treat them as you treat other crimes. Rape is a crime. Crime is real. If you’re prepared to joke about “real” crimes, then be prepared to joke about rape – otherwise you’re indicating that you believe rape belongs in a different category – not “real crime.”

    Also, I had a Crim Law Prof who only taught statutory rape – and I always considered it a cop-out – and a weakness in my legal training.

  11. Jeff Baker says:

    Prof. Bridges and others,

    I humbly suggest that you seek out some clinical teachers in domestic violence clinics. I am a man who teaches and supervises such a clinic and often have to thread the needles you describe with men and women students who often have profound experiences with the subject matter. Raising these issues in the context of a real client who is a victim or who is making allegations can be intense. The clinicians deal with this constantly at an acute level and may be a good resource for you.


  12. Shawn Boyne says:

    I had the good fortune of taking a course in Gender Discrimination while I was at USC from Susan Estrich. I remember reading an excerpt from her book, REAL RAPE, at the time. In the middle of a fairly large class, my Post-traumatic stress decided to pay me a visit. I ran out of the class in tears. As I heard later from the other students in the class and am recalling through a very fuzzy memory of the incident, Susan returned to class and said something to the effect that now the class had a clearer picture of the harm that rape causes.
    Now as a professor teaching criminal law, I don’t teach rape in criminal law but I do teach the rape shield law in evidence. Somewhat ironically, in one of my evidence classes, a female student did leave the class in tears one semester after another student made an insensitive comment that is not worth repeating. Given the statistics on sexual assault, I think that the normal rules of the game should not apply when teaching rape. I applaud your intuition to only call on volunteers.

  13. Khiara M. Bridges says:

    Thank you all for your comments on my post. I really appreciate them. I’m three days into the unit; I have two more to go. There have been no tears; nor have there been any shouting matches. (There was, however, a close call on Day 2. A (male) student attempted to interrupt another (male) student who was arguing in favor of a more lenient sexual assault law. I managed to silence the interrupter with a “hold your horses.”) I will read the Yale Law Journal article. I will talk to clinical professors. I will continue to call on volunteers. I will continue to think about how to teach sexual assault sensitively without Othering the topic. And I will be relieved when it’s all over.

    Also, Schedlinski: although two of the teenagers on the train that day had screwdrivers, Goetz was never “threatened” with them. Instead, with screwdrivers tucked away into coats, two of the four approached him, and one said, “Give me five dollars.” It would make the case a whole lot easier if the potential weapons had actually been brandished.

  14. Student says:

    Now that the class is over, I thought I would let you know what some of us in it thought of this portion (and yes, I know I should be studying for the exam right now). This post was linked on our section facebook for awhile, which helpfully confirmed for us that you were, in fact, taking volunteers.

    We had the same discussion about volunteers vs. no volunteers outside of class- one of the students had been affected personally by a crime that was a topic in a writing class assignment, and felt that it was wrong to other rape by not calling on volunteers. A number of us felt that given the likelihood that multiple people in the class had been sexually assaulted it was better to take volunteers.

    There were plenty of heated discussions – we just kept them out of class. Usually we were more upset by the decisions of the courts than our classmates. I don’t think we’ve ever had so many discussions about a topic outside of class.

    Overall? The general consensus was that we were nervous to handle this topic in class too, but that you handled it well, and we’re glad we had the discussion.