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Quite a few of the cases or problems in my criminal law class involve rape or sexual assault. The casebook I use has a different approach to teaching criminal law that doesn’t separate out these kinds of crimes from other kinds of crimes. There are disadvantages to this, largely because the law surrounding sexual violence has been the subject of sweeping reform that is connected to issues of race and sex equality in complicated ways. And society’s beliefs about what constitutes blameworthy sexual conduct are both in flux and not always connected with what the law says is blameworthy. Not treating sexual violence separately means that we often don’t have time to discuss the reforms and the continuing difficulty we have in defining crimes in this area. There are advantages, though, too. The cases and problems we have are accurate reflections of what the law right now is, and not separating sexual violence out as something different from other kinds of crimes can help us take it more seriously and to develop attitudes that treat victims and defendants the same way we would treat them for other kinds of crimes. This helps to get outside the “bad, old” ways of thinking to more effectively avoid engaging in the same harms that the reforms were targeted to solve.

In connection with that, I read an article today that was so thoughtful about some of the problems that we have in figuring out what sexual conduct ought to be criminal and why that I had to share it. Sarah Hepola in “The Alcohol Blackout,” published October 29 in Texas Monthly explores the role of excessive alcohol in helping to create the situations in which injuries because of sexual conduct occur. There are places that I might make different normative judgments than she does, but her treatment of room for disagreement in particular is especially important. I encourage you to read it.

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