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Roundtable Discussion: Technologies of Sexual (In)Justice

Brenda Cossman, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

Daniel Del Gobbo, SJD candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

Megan Ross, SJD candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

Luke Taylor, SJD candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

Published April 20, 2018 by Technologies of Justice.

On January 27, 2018, Brenda Cossman, Daniel Del Gobbo, Megan Ross and Luke Taylor held a roundtable discussion titled Roundtable Discussion: Technologies of Sexual (In)Justice at the Technologies of Justice conference, hosted at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.



The roundtable focused on the way law is deployed in the governance of sexual subjects. The group discusses Foucauldian biopolitics and the use of Foucault-inspired reasoning to describe and reason with the legal regulation of sexuality. It is brought to the table that the idea that disciplining the body is a way of disciplining populations. For the purpose of their discussion, the group defined sex law as a set of rules or principles for decision-making that are set out for a series of bureaucratic apparatuses, courts, tribunals, etc. that focuses specifically on the topic of sex and sexuality.
Brenda Cossman brought up the multiple ways sex laws have operated to facilitate, undermine, pre-empt, etc. sexual justice, sexual citizenship, or belonging of sexual subjects. She also discussed the idea of governing indocile bodies and populations, and the effect this has on society. She ended her segment by exploring conditions of belonging and how this can help define law, as well as the way we treat sexuality in a societal sense.
Daniel Del Gobbo opene a discussion on family law and 'buggery' law in a historical sense, and how this can relate to modern ideas of justice. By utilizing digital archives and putting together online repositories, we are now able to study historical trends in law and mine data for statistics on past events. In his research of past family and buggery laws, Del Gobbo highlighted the juridical technologies of sexual injustice in creating undue panic or bias through media and legal avenues.
Meghan Ross explained the 'sexting paradox': a seemingly paradoxical set of events in current times in which teens have been charged for sexually exploiting themselves. She noted the hypocrisy of teens being charged as adults for exploiting themselves as a child. She emphasized that the use of law to target those it was originally trying to protect has existed in both a historical and in modern context, and that this is not a new occurrence in law. She described how the goal to create a docile citizen, and cause people to govern themselves, sometimes becomes controversial and can end up in the use of law to punish those who are social outliers for not conforming, using laws meant to protect them from other circumstances.
Luke Taylor provided an in-depth discussion on campus sexual violence, bringing to light the many different policies across the country and 'the return of the sex wars' across North American campuses. According to Taylor, the concepts of agency and coercion are heated topics in the community, and there are contrasting views in feminism on governing the content of women’s erotic lives. He points out the competing feminist legal treatments of these issues as they relate to one aspect of the legal process, specifically the use of consensual dispute resolution as a means of addressing campus peer sexual violence, asking the question, “Should consensual dispute resolution be used, or even allowed on campuses as a dispute resolution process, considering the gendered power dynamics in the case of sexual violence?” Some processes, such as mediation and restorative justice, are often used as collaborative processes versus a more formal law court and tribunal process. Taylor emphasized the need for building accountability and trust between parties, which can also help the people involved as well as the legal process itself. He pointed out that although these can be helpful, there is still a problem of systemic inequalities in places outside of court or public scrutiny. In speaking on the systemic inequalities, he made a statement in the views of victim’s rights activists. He noted that the sacrifice of public accountability can sometimes pave the way for a private peace among disputing parties, and how we need to think about enhancing the scope and role of processes used in dispute resolution for campus peer sexual violence. Taylor has made it a point of interest to learn more about the law's capacious role in things such as the #MeToo movement, as well as other modern controversies and situations addressing of sexual conduct, sexual assault, and sexual misconduct in the public sphere. He also pushed our need to find more information on the overlays of social justice and legal justice in terms of governance and discourse within the community.
The final conversation between the members was on the future of laws in sexuality. The panelists brought up potential stakes and unintended consequences of legal intervention in sexuality laws, as well as the role moral panics play in the introduction and enforcement of law that controls sexuality, and how this can become a problem. They noted that when there is anxiety in politics in general, this can cause the tide of sexual law to change quickly. They also mentioned that the use of Foucault has been helpful in describing these situations and helping people understand situations from a more philosophical or sociolegal viewpoint. They concluded with the question, “What is the role of law in self-governance?”