While originally coined in 2006 by Tarana Burke, a social activist and community organiser, the #MeToo movement moved into the spotlight in 2017 when several female celebrities accused film mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault. Since then, women (and some men) around the world have shared their experiences with sexual violence and harassment across social media and the press using both #metoo and #timesup. These hashtags aimed not just to bring the issues to the collective attention, but to end sexual violence and discrimination in all their forms by breaking the silence around gender-based violence and promoting social change.
Beyond giving survivors a platform to discuss their experiences, these movements also raised important legal issues. For example, #metoo raised issues around spoliation, statutes of limitation, due process, wrongful termination, libel, non-disclosure agreements, backlogs of evidence, and sexual harassment and abuse in legal workplaces, amongst other issues. Changes occurred as a result of the movement, but at the same time back-steps happened in some jurisdictions as a backlash was felt.
In this module, we discuss the issues #metoo raised for the criminal justice system and civil courts, while considering the broader socio-legal interface to explore potential further points for improving equality and addressing inequity for those experiencing sexual violence and harassment, including in the legal profession itself. The module brings experts from their respective issues to ask: What did #metoo highlight? What legal changes did it initiate? What work is there still to be done?
Students will begin by considering the theoretical underpinnings of the movement, exploring violence, intersectionality, marginalisation and access to justice. Next, we consider the role of social media and the digital age in the momentum #metoo gained, and what legal issues this raises. Then, we move to explore what the movement has highlighted about the problems and pitfalls of the criminal law, evidence and procedure for those with claims, both old and new. In the civil realm, we explore issues around contracts, arbitration provisions, and non-disclosure agreements, asking what these mean for breaking the silence. Finally, we consider how the legal profession itself has come into focus as a site of sexual harassment and abuse, raising issues for courts, law firms and the profession more broadly. In short, students explore how #metoo has made significant and lasting difference, but also explore how its impacts have been felt unequally, looking to what can be done moving forward.
Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:
- Investigate and critically evaluate how responses to sexual misconduct, rape and sexual assault have been augmented by online advocacy, both in theory and in practice;
- Reflect critically on the how law both shaped, and is shaped by, #metoo and related campaigns on gender-based violence and discrimination;
- Explore and review the legal principles and rules applicable to sexual misconduct and violence inside and outside of the workplace, and evaluate how these principles sit within the broader legal framework;
- Critically analyse and assess what the #MeToo and allied contemporary movements mean for the legal profession and legal workplaces; and
- Plan and execute complex legal research in order to critically evaluate how #metoo has impacted on the law and on our understandings of gender-based violence and feminism.
- In-class participation (10) [LO 1,2,3,4]
- Reflective learning journal (30) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]
- Research essay (3500 words) (60) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]
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Classes offered in non-standard sessions will be taught on an intensive base with compulsory contact hours (approximately 26 hours of face to face teaching). The course will also require advanced preparation through assigned readings. In total, it is anticipated that the hours required for completion of this course (class preparation, teaching and completion of assessment) will not exceed 120 hours. Classes offered during semester periods are expected to have 3 contact hours per week.
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