Teaching the Law of Rape:

In my criminal law class, I plan to spend some time discussing the law of rape. This is a hard subject to teach, not just because people have strong feelings about it but because (1) it's fairly likely that at least one women in the class has been a victim of rape or attempted rape, (2) many women in the class are deeply and personally concerned about the risk of being raped, in a way that people aren't with regard to homicide (which is rarer) or burglary (which is less serious), and (3) many men and some women, knowing this, are reluctant to speak candidly about some of the thorny issues in this area, which deprives everyone in the class — men and women alike — of a thoughtful, substantive discussion.

As a result, some professors just don't teach the subject at all. I don't want to take that approach; I think it's my job to lead students to think about important issues even when they may be personally difficult for them.

Still, I naturally want to do this as effectively as possible, and to do that I think I need to make students as comfortable as possible. I don't believe that making students comfortable justifies eliminating certain substantive topics or ideas. But I do think that there are ways of presenting the material that will increase students' comfort without sacrificing the substance, and that will actually make the substance more accessible.

Could those of you who have studied the law of rape in criminal law class (and those who have taught it, of course) tell me what worked well in the classes you've had? Any particular nonobvious pedagogical tricks that have really helped you understand the subject, or made it more exciting? Any good ways that teachers have defused tension in class, or cleared up confusion? (For instance, I was thinking about asking students to imagine the victim being their daughter, and the accused being their son [though not in the same case!], to see if this will help them see things from both sides, and will help them recognize that both men and women have a stake in having the law be fair both to the victim and to the accused. Did your teachers try this, and, if they did, did it work?)

If you have answers, please post them in the comments. Please be selective; I'm not looking just for interesting or outrageous stories, or arguments that the law of rape system is unsound in some ways. I'm looking, selfishly, for tips that would help me teach the law of rape in the standard first-year criminal class more effectively. Many thanks in advance for your help.