Barbara Kay: Harvard students want to learn the law without discussing 'upsetting' crimes

Okay, here goes.

I was raped, multiple times. I also attended law school a few years back. This was in Canada, where criminal law is country wide.

I took many criminal law courses. Sexual assault was a prominent figure in all of them. There's a lot of good reasons for that.

First, on a practical level, it's a pretty common crime. Lawyers wanting to practice in criminal law should be familiar with it.

Second, it's one of the best examples of how criminal law interacts with the Charter (comparable to the Constitution, for the US). The way the various cases developed the law with respect to the Charter are extremely important. By reading the cases, you can see how the courts try to balance rights like full answer and defence versus privacy. There's incredibly important lessons on legal principles of criminal procedure, evidence laws, constitutional laws, and more, that are best exemplified in sexual assault cases.

Third, the way we treat rape, legally, is important. This is probably the most rapidly changing part of criminal law there is. Starting from penis in vagina sex where the victim had to prove they resisted it, to unconsented penetration, to where we've done away with 'rape' and now it's sexual assault, which is any sexual battery. We've removed defenses such as marriage. And while we still aren't there yet (and we've had a couple rather disturbing rulings from our Supreme Court on the matter), we're finally addressing sexual assault where a man is the victim.

Finally, I think it's important from a social justice aspect. Sexual assault is a horrible crime, and people should know how it's handled by our criminal justice system, so they can have informed opinions on whether we need to change things or not.

To bring it back to the personal: yes, it was uncomfortable hearing about rape in class. It bothered me. It stressed me out. I had to leave class one time. I froze up for a bit when I had to answer an exam hypo that involved sexual assault.

And I would NEVER, EVER support removing sexual assault law from the curriculum. It's far too important to do that.

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