Recently, I read an article entitled, Law schools fail on domestic violence training, experts say. It just so happens that I attend one of the law school that fail on domestic violence training. The article pointed out that my school “does not include domestic violence training in mandatory courses” but that “the subject is covered in [some courses].” Yes that is very true. But I think that this article (and ultimately the recommendation to include VAW mandatory training) misses the point in trying to suggest changes to law school curriculum.
The article highlights that the recommendation to include domestic violence training into the law school curriculum made by the Domestic Violence Death Review (DVDR) committee in 2012 have not been implemented except for in two schools. The aim of the recommendations were “preventing deaths and reducing domestic violence in general” (Source). One might ask how does mandatory domestic violence training in law schools help prevent deaths and domestic violence in general? Well, the report revealed that on more than one occasion that women consulted with lawyers prior to their murders by their intimate partners. One lawyers suggested to a domestic violence murder victim to stay in the family home to protect her matrimonial real property interests. This is similar to Harper’s response to intimate partner violence against Indigenous women on reserves (you know, when he created the Matrimonial Real Property on Reserves Act instead of actually addressing the crux of the problem).
The article also highlights that the Law Commission of Ontario also created violence against women modules for Ontario law schools to include in their curriculum (You can see more about those modules here). I think this is a more benign approach to address the issue of domestic violence which does not accomplish the overall goals of the original DVDR committee. Remember the aims were “preventing deaths and reducing domestic violence in general”? Yes these goals are quite aspirational and noble. But is mandating violence against women courses in law school really addressing issue? No.
I go to one of the schools listed as “snubbing the recommendations.” I also made it quite clear that I was a survivor of domestic violence in my law school application. I have also written about these experiences in many instances (the domestic violence and how it is linked to my criminalization, like here). While I have no mandated courses on domestic violence or courses I have to take with VAW lessons, there have been many instances where VAW issues appear.
For instance, in my one course, I had a passionate professor (note: all my professors are passionate) who did talk about VAW realities. This course is mandated for all first years. I do not know if the VAW topic was mandatory. When I listened to this professor talk about these issues, I felt she spoke from a place of love. Her passion and respect for this issue emanated in her lecture. Sure, not all professors are great lecturers but this topic is a very sensitive topic and I think it matters more about who teaches it and how it is brought up in particular courses. Can such a requirement be included in all courses in first year (that I have experienced so far)? I am unsure but I do see how it can be included in specific courses. However, there are also certain cases in specific courses that do have a VAW-component. Sometimes those VAW components never make it to the discussion in the classroom. This isn’t the problem with the law school curriculum though. I argue that it is an issue with how legal decisions are organized which is more of an issue with the actual structure and formation of the law than the teaching of the law itself. If we look at R v J.A. case, the VAW history between the complainant and the accused are not discussed in the SCC decision (and this is a case that is about sexual assault and consent, not domestic violence… because law). There are hints of it but one does not notice it unless someone points it out (or unless you read LEAF’s factum, which I don’t entirely agree with 100% but the VAW history is mentioned there). Again, this is an issue with how law is formed not an issue with actual law school curriculum.
To return to my initial statement, that the article and the report miss the point about domestic violence, I think it matters more about who we let into law school and who is teaching about VAW. Because if this is an issue that needs to be attended to, simply adding a mandatory course to the law school curriculum does not address the larger issues with how the VAW issue is taken up in other institutions that shape and form law. But, ultimately, I think it matters more about who we admit into law school (and who is teaching law) than the courses we teach if we actually want to see change surrounding the VAW issue.