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Law school podcast: The #MeToo movement through a legal lens

In the 19th episode of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Planet Lex podcast series, Dean Daniel Rodriguez talks with Northwestern University professors Laura Beth Nielsen and Deborah Tuerkheimer about #MeToo, which started as a viral moment and has grown into a movement resulting in both praise and controversy.

They discuss how the #MeToo movement differs from similar assault accusations in the past, the role President Trump may have played in the movement’s growth and the impact the movement has had on public discussion surrounding sexual harassment and assault. They also look at the movement through the lens of the law, looking at what the law has to say about enablers and witnesses, the importance of modernizing laws surrounding rape and the adequacy of societal punishment.

Below are excerpts from the interview:

Professor Tuerkheimer
“I think we can look at the (Bill) Cosby case as one of the many precursors to this conversation. You could draw a line between the many, many women coming forward accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault and what we’re seeing now. Frankly, what happened in the interim was the election of Donald Trump as president. …There’s a relationship between the election of someone who is a serial sexual harasser and has committed sexual contact without consent, by his own acknowledgement, and the movement that we’re seeing now. I think there’s widespread anger, there’s rage, there’s disgust on the part of the women who have fueled this movement.”

Professor Nielsen
“There’s a belief in multiple women coming forward as verifying what happened as opposed to ‘these folks are coming forward because they want a piece of this action and they’re going to get all this money and a lawsuit.’ There’s now a growing recognition, and I would add the Nasser sexual assaults of the U.S. gymnasts, that these predators, whether they are in the workplace or a school, have multiple victims. It’s not just jumping on the bandwagon, it’s confirmation of this person’s tendencies. I think that’s a really exciting change.”

Tuerkheimer is the Class of 1940 Research Professor of Law at Northwestern Law and an expert in criminal law, evidence and feminist legal theory. Nielsen is a research professor at the American Bar Foundation as well as a professor of sociology and director of the Center for Legal Studies at Northwestern.

About Planet Lex

Northwestern Law Dean Rodriguez hosts and the Legal Talk Network produces the Planet Lex podcast series. The podcasts typically feature interviews with prominent Northwestern faculty members, discussing the law’s role in changing global, societal and technological landscapes.

Topics of earlier episodes include defending Brendan Dassey; the evolution of music copyright law; sexual misconduct on campus; the regulation of public corruption; technological advancements and the law; law enforcement and implicit bias; and integrating the law and STEM-focused multidisciplinary education; online privacy and cybersecurity; and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Listen to all 19 episodes.

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