Marie Henein shouldn’t be shut out from university campuses for playing her part in a judicial system with a rape culture problem.
Henein is the renowned Toronto defence attorney who sparked controversy when she defended Canadian media personality Jian Ghomeshi against several counts of sexual assault last year.
Now she’s poised to give a talk at Bishops University in February, which will be live-streamed to the three other Maple League universities — St. Francis Xavier, Acadia and Mount Allison. The invitation has met controversy, with a student at St. Francis Xavier publishing a piece in the student newspaper claiming that Henein’s talk sends the wrong message about victims of sexual assault and perpetuates rape culture.
Marie Henein was doing her job, but her identity as a woman seems to attract the assumption that her actions are representative of more than just the demands of her profession, but instead representative of rape culture in its entirety.
It’s worth considering whether the disproportionate vitriol she faced following the Ghomeshi trial, let alone the news of her university talk, may have been lessened if she was a male lawyer.
That’s an incredible responsibility for one person, especially since the problem of rape culture is far bigger — and far more institutionalized — than Henein.
Rape culture is a real issue in the justice system that normalizes the need for harsh questioning tactics like Henein’s. It’s a pattern followed by most defense lawyers for alleged rapists and sex offenders, but Henein isn’t at fault for being the player in a bigger game.
Inviting speakers to a university allows for a place of learning to expose students to a wide range of perspectives and perspectives. Shutting her out from the university places an unfair onus on Heinen and needlessly protects students from a beneficial conversation, regardless of whether or not they agree with Henein’s past actions.
At these universities, rape culture won’t be perpetuated by a one-hour guest speaker — it would be perpetuated by the universities’ failure to institutionally protect sexual assault survivors and students statistically vulnerable to sexual assault on its campus.
People go to university to learn and a holistic education includes exposure to opinions that students both agree and disagree with. Shutting out Henein because she’s unpopular works against that balance.
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