Teaching Sexual Offences Sensitively: Not a Capitulation but Good Pedagogy

Authors Jameelah Omar

ISSN: 1996-2193
Affiliations: Lecturer, University of Cape Town
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 29 Issue 1, 2018, p. 90 – 106


Sexual offences form a part of the criminal law syllabus during the LLB programme at most South African law schools. All law graduates in South Africa should have the knowledge and skills to understand the nuances and sensitivities related to sexual offences. The option of avoiding the subject matter entirely is not viable given the prevalence of sexual offences in South Africa. Sexual offences are inherently uncomfortable to talk about. For some students, the discomfort of talking about sexual offences is actually secondary trauma as a result of their own past experiences or those of close family members or friends. This must be factored into how the law in this area is taught. The need to balance the social context with legal content is an ongoing debate in law schools, particularly considering the demand for decolonised syllabi. Lecturers of sexual offences must strive to do both: teach the technical law and introduce students to the intersectional issues of gender and power that is closely connected to the law on sexual offences. This article considers the importance of teaching sexual offences and affirms the need for reflection by lecturers on how sensitive topics have been taught historically. The article establishes several classroom practices that can mitigate secondary trauma, including how sexual offences should be assessed constructively. The legal profession is an important role player in the criminal justice system and includes defence lawyers, prosecutors, judicial officers and activists. The importance of the topic and how it is taught should form part of the training law students receive that prepares them to challenge rape culture in the practice of the law when they encounter it in their legal careers.