Time moves quickly in the life of a law student with two legal internships.
I have learned so much more than I expected I would in my first month of work, especially in this remote environment. Though I am typically found working at home, sometimes venturing to the library or local coffee shops for a change of pace, my research work has left me feeling as though I have traveled around the world several times over.
For my first project, I was tasked with researching three evidentiary requirements for sexual assault prosecutions for ISLA's application to be included as amicus curiae in Kenyan court: the rule of prompt response or complaint, the cautionary rule, and corroboration. These rules were established across many jurisdictions, based on English common law. The first dates as far back as the 1600s, based on outdated notions of how victims of sexual assault "should" react, and requires that victims report their assaults within a specified, generally short, amount of time in order to bring forth a complaint. In Kenya, the requirement is five days.
Over the course of this project, I found myself researching and comparing case law, legislation, and journal articles from Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe, The Gambia, Rwanda, and Lesotho, as well as Canada, New Zealand, the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. These were just the countries that had applicable case law. There were many more I researched to find they either never had such requirements, or still had them in place. I have learned more about the legislatures and judiciaries of these countries than ever before in my life, and especially the effects of colonialism on the structures and social perceptions that live on.
Over the past fifty years, many jurisdictions have overturned such evidentiary rules in the face of ever growing statistical data showing that the rationales and logic used to explain such rules are unfounded, and recognizing the harmful effect of such rules. As I have learned however, overturning rules and changing legislation does not work alone. Long term effects of such rules, like the idea that a "real" victim of assault would report it right away or that women are more prone to lying about sexual assault, require a response that is concerted, multi-pronged, and long-lasting to change deeply embedded beliefs and stereotypes.
The purpose of my first research project was to show the historical and social context behind first, the adoption of the evidentiary rules, and second, the reasoning for eradicating the rules in those jurisdictions that have abandoned them. Through continuously evolving scholarship, case law and legislative reform, data is showing that negative inferences and assumptions born from these rules are inappropriate and inapplicable, and should not be relied upon for sexual assault cases.
What has excited me the most about my work so far as been recognizing my ability to apply the knowledge I have learned about our American legal system and adapt it to several international systems, from differences in citations and research databases, to translating French cases or legislative acts, to learning the subtle and not-so-subtle differences in prosecutorial requirements.