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Thoughts on Sexual Violence and Legal Education from Francesco Mercadante

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

“I don’t know anyone in my life who has experienced sexual violence. However, upon hearing stories from my close female friends about people they know, it has made me pay particular attention on the law on sexual assault and question why it is failing to prevent these abuses.

In particular, speaking to my sister – who has just turned 15 – about people her age who are also victims has made me question what I can do as a law student and a man to prevent these cruel assaults in the future. Having only done one unit that deals with sexual violence, Criminal Law 1, my exposure to sexual violence and the law has been limited. Yet, even in that short period of half a semester I have learnt so much in regard to how the law deals with sexual violence. With sexual violence being such a problem within our society I was surprised to see how thorough the law is when it comes to sexual offences. In particular, the fact that the common law had been codified to ensure no ambiguities when it comes to many sexual offences.

Yet, what was most surprising about this to me is the fact that sexual violence is still so commonplace despite the ordered and widespread law. Although I once thought they had an intertwining relationship, I believe that there is a divide in how lawyers see the relationship between sexual violence and the law and the average person. After studying the law, I have come to realise that I never see the law advertised so that possible victims know what is protecting them and possible offenders can reconsider their actions.

I was impressed at the beginning of the sexual violence unit when the first lecture was focused on the horrific statistics of sexual violence in Australia. The fact that they were jarring and rather depressing, although horribly unfortunate, was a huge eye-opener as to just how prevalent the problem is in a society that prides itself on modernity and progressiveness. Moreover, throughout the course there was some sensitivity to the fact that students have faced these issues in the past and mentions of the Monash support service. I felt that this was an ok start in addressing sexual violence and assisting survivors particularly because the issue was outlined at the forefront on the unit.

However, I feel that the outlining of these issues should not be confined to the unit itself. After facing the harsh realities of sexual violence and its disgusting, everlasting prevalence I feel that there would be a significant benefit in having a dedicated section during the course that addressed not only this topic but a range of relevant issues in our society. Not only does it reinforce the gravity of the problem, but an added focus on our duty as young lawyers to actively promote a significant change in society could aid in fighting against these injustices. Although some may criticise taking time away from studying the law in a law course, if we aren’t taught about making positive changes by using the law then more people are likely to fall into a life of ignorance which only perpetuates the problem.

Regardless of what branch we decide to follow, regardless of if we become lawyers or not, an addition such as this could inspire many to reach their full potential as men and women for others.”

Written by Francesco Mercadante

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