Laws, Rape Culture and Society

Summary: Now that students have created a set of guidelines, they will discuss how such guidelines relate to the world outside the classroom.  They will do this by first looking at existing guidelines–Iowa state law and the University of Iowa’s code of conduct–to discuss how effective these guidelines have been in reflecting society’s values and making those values a reality.  To do that, students will compare their guidelines to the existing laws and codes while discussing these documents are rhetorical artifacts with subtly different messages and audiences. Are their guidelines similar to the laws that already exist?  Why have those laws not curbed incidents of sexual assault? In order to answer those questions students will look at an article for the Stanford News that discussion the connection between laws and societal norms. The end goal of this lesson is to help students see themselves as agents for changing society’s norms about sexual assault.  This will serve as preparation for Bystander Intervention Training in a later lesson.


Learning Objectives:

  1. Students will discuss laws as rhetorical artifacts with messages and audiences as well as when those messages are effective and when they are not.
  2. Students will see themselves as agents for changing cultural norms and closing the gap between those norms and their guidelines.


Class Materials:

  1. Class guidelines document, Iowa state sexual assault law, University of Iowa code of conduct projected
  2. Discussion questions printed or projected


Student Assignments:

  1. 2-Week Curricula: assign Our Guidelines on Campus short written response


Outline for Class Activity:



  • Introduction (2 min): In the last unit of the Campus Culture Project students created a set of guidelines that they would want people to follow in sexual and romantic encounters.  In the next unit they will start learning strategies for how to use those guidelines to influence the world outside the classroom.




  • Small Group Activity (10 min): Divide students into teams of 3-5 and have them compare their written class guidelines to the University of Iowa code of conduct and the Iowa state laws on sexual violence.  


    1. What differences do they notice between the three documents?  What is the same and what is different? How significant are the differences? Why are they significant?
    2. Remember that laws are not only enforceable rules about how people act, they are also rhetorical documents that show what a society values, what people believe is right and wrong.  What different rhetorical messages do you see between these three documents?
    3. What are the target audiences for these three documents?  How does that affect what messages they send?

As students work, circulate around the room to encourage them towards more in depth discussion and reinvigorate conversations that have slowed down.  



  • Large Group Discussion (15 min): Go around the room and hear from each team.  Encourage students to consider how these laws are the rules that everyone is (supposedly) abiding by and that these are the laws that others will apply to them if they find themselves a victim of a sexual assault.  Also encourage them to consider that these laws supposedly represent them and their values. The goal is to get students to realize that laws are both enforceable documents and rhetorical artifacts.




  • Small Group Activity (10 min): We know that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes.  So if these laws already exist, why is sexual assault so prevalent? Ask students to discuss the article they read for today (“Laws may be ineffective . . .” by Clifton B. Parker).  


    1. Summarize this article’s main point.  According to Parker, under what conditions do people break laws?  What factors encourage them to break laws? What factors discourage them from breaking laws?
    2. What parts of the article confused you?  Where there examples or arguments that you didn’t understand?  Words that were unfamiliar? Discuss these in your group and keep a list of places you are still confused.
    3. How do you see this reflected in the prevalence of sexual assault?  According to Parker’s logic, what do we need to do in order to prevent it?



  • Large Group Discussion (15 min): The article might be a little difficult for some students.  Use the first two questions to help them summarize the article and work through anything that confused them.  Then transition to linking Parker’s ideas to those about sexual assault. The goal is to get students to think about how societal norms do not match the laws (or in some cases, the laws reflect negative societal norms) and how individual action is needed to bring the norms closer to the student’s guidelines.




  • Wrap-up (3 min): When it comes to sexual assault that individual action is called Bystander Intervention, when someone steps in to change a situation that they feel is wrong or unsafe.  In the next lesson the educators from the Rape Victim’s Advocacy Program and the Women’s Resource and Action Center will come in to help them be better bystanders and help them close the gap between their guidelines and the campus reality.