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New law course at UNC delves into sexual violence

Law student Maria Moore proposed the elective course in spring 2014 after noticing the topic of sexual violence didn’t receive adequate coverage in her classes.

“I was in my criminal law class, and I realized that there wasn’t anything on the syllabus about sexual violence,” she said.

When Moore asked her professor about the hole in the curriculum, he said the subject was too uncomfortable to cover in a required class.

“When it’s something that huge — rape is the most common violent crime — and we don’t talk about it, it makes it seem like it’s not important or it makes it seem like it’s not a topic for polite conversation,” Moore said. “It creates a culture of silence.”

Moore said the topic is important for her fellow law students to learn about so they can better serve their clients.

“A lot of survivors of sexual violence end up becoming very turned off to the legal process while dealing with a prosecutor who’s supposed to be on their side,” she said. “I felt a lot of misunderstanding occurs from the lack of the topic being addressed while prosecutors are in law school.”

Amily McCool, a graduate of the School of Law and the systems advocacy coordinator for the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, agreed to help with the creation of the course. She’ll also be teaching it.

“This course is vital because of the high rate of sexual violence in our culture,” McCool said. “Even attorneys who don’t intend to work specifically with sexual violence survivors are going to find that many of their clients have been affected by the issue.”

While conducting her research, Moore said she found only one other law school in the country offering a class on sexual violence and law. McCool said she was not aware of any schools offering a course specifically addressing the subject.

The course is already at capacity, with several students on the waitlist.

McCool said students will learn about sexual violence law in a variety of contexts, including the intersectionality of oppression, military law, feminist theory and tribal law. They will also study state and federal sexual violence legislation.

Jeffrey Hirsch, associate dean for academic affairs at the law school, said student interest inspired the class, which was approved in spring 2015.

“We have criminal law courses that touch on the subject, but not at a significant depth,” he said.

Deborah Weissman, who teaches “Gender Violence and the Law,” said her course focuses on domestic violence, and it mentions sexual violence but doesn’t go into the issue.

“As the issues that concern gender and sexual violence continue to emerge, teachers and students have to be more open to curriculum development,” she said. “The sexual violence course is a natural outcome of the way that students have understood and raised excellent questions about the need to do more.”

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