Rethinking Rape

I. Bennett Capers, Real Rape Too, 99 Calif. L. Rev. (forthcoming, 2011), available at SSRN. Erin Murphy I had just finished teaching the rape unit to my first year criminal law class when my colleague Rachel Barkow brought I. Bennett Capers' Real Rape Too to my attention. I know that opinions about whether and how to teach rape vary dramatically amongst faculty members, but for several reasons I have always been committed to teaching it and to encouraging candid classroom discussions. However, one of the interesting things about teaching a topic about which social conventions are still in flux is that increasingly I find myself unintentionally steering the class to the debates of my own youth. Having graduated in the early to mid-nineties, I came of age in the twilight of "no means no" and Take Back the Night. Date rape had gained recognition as "real rape," but "roofies" were sufficiently unfamiliar that President Clinton had not yet signed the first federal date rape drug law. Understandings about sexuality, too, were still evolving. TV's "Friends" was considered a pathbreaking show because it depicted a group of male and female friends living together and hanging out in a (mostly platonic) way that felt very familiar to my generation but at times baffled our parents. Gay pride was a common feature on campuses, but few of my peers had been openly out in high school and a "don't ask, don't tell" military policy was still considered progressive. And when Ellen DeGeneres came out on her show in 1997, it was still a big media event. Of course, the students I teach now are already of a different era. They grew up hearing public discussions about the President receiving oral sex from an intern in the oval office, learned that celebrity can be reached by the "leak" of a sex tape, and laughed at bawdy gay sex jokes on "Will and Grace." They can have "it's complicated" Facebook statuses, personal experience with "sexting," and be active in gay marriage debates. And it doesn't stop there: in the coming years, I'll encounter a generation that as children flipped through Ellen and Portia's beautiful wedding photos on the cover of People magazine, heard Senator Scott Brown publicly reveal his childhood sexual abuse, watched Kurt and Blaine's big, very real kiss on "Glee," and, if novelist Gary Shteyngart is to be believed, unselfconsciously wear transparent pants. Continue reading "Rethinking Rape"

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