Social Change with and Outside the Law

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Guest Lecture for the University of Melbourne

I was lucky enough to be invited to give a guest lecture at the University of Melbourne at the end of April 2020 for the 2nd year undergraduate class Law, Justice and Social Change, convened by the brilliant Dr Charlotte Mertens. This week the students were looking at the possibilities and limitations of law reform approaches to making real change on social issues. They were also looking at possibilities for change that exist outside of law reforms. 

This was a particularly exciting opportunity for me as I have been thinking a lot about law reform efforts around sexual violence, and whether this it has been a fruitful avenue in creating change. Unfortunately, the reality is that despite monumental efforts by feminist researchers and advocates, rates of sexual violence have not been reduced and cases are still dealt with in the court system pretty horrendously. I have also been thinking about, I guess you could call it the feminist ethics of expanding the reach of the criminal justice system by campaigning for increased criminalisation of sexual violence. 

I have generally come to the conclusion that there needs to be more effort put into other avenues outside of law reforms and that we need to be more critical in how we involve the criminal justice system in social issues. In my own research, I am actively moving away from law reform responses, particularly when it comes to queer people and queer sex as the law has historically criminalised and brutalised queer people. It also makes little sense to me, in terms of sexual consent, to use the rigid system of law as one of our primary guides to navigating sexual relationships – which are fluid and context-dependent! 

Anyway, this lecture was a fantastic opportunity for me to compile all of these thoughts and the great research that has been done in this area. I also shared some vignettes from the focus groups that I have conducted so far – the first sneak peek into my own research! The lecture was given over Zoom because of COVID-19, which means it was nice and easy to record to share with you all.

Photo @minervapaniagua02 via Twenty20

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