Almost half of law students want trigger warnings before being taught ‘hard subjects’ like rape

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By Katie King on

Exclusive research: Forewarned is forearmed, say 48% of undergrads

An exclusive survey of Legal Cheek readers has shown that almost half of undergraduate law students want their tutors and lecturers to use trigger warnings when teaching hard subjects like rape and war crimes.

Trigger warnings have been adopted in law departments including at the University of Oxford. This led barrister Matthew Scott to throw scorn at the “delicate flowers” being taught there. But perhaps aspiring lawyers are not as delicate as Scott has suggested: 52% of the law students we surveyed would rather not be forewarned about potentially distressing content in tutorials and lectures.

Comments from respondents voting along majority lines include: “Students that choose to take law should already understand that they will inevitably come across these hard subjects”; “What kind of lawyers do we create if some of them even can’t handle the theory of these topics?”; “Grow the hell up”; “Left wing post-truth tosh”; and “It’s essential to develop a good emotional detachment”.

Survey results (undergraduate law students)

Strong words, but the numbers do show this was a tightly-fought contest. The margin between ‘yes to trigger warnings’ and ‘no to trigger warnings’ was just a few percentage points, 48% of students giving them the thumbs up.

A number of pro-trigger warnings students left us comments as part of the survey to explain their vote. These include: “I think a brief warning at the start of the lecture about sensitive material would suffice”, and “It’s better to warn people rather than jump right into topics which could cause students a varying amount of distress”. Another respondent said:

“As a law student with PTSD, it’s not that I am in any way unwilling to learn all subjects, I am simply thankful for some warning so I can mentally prepare and compartmentalise.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, survey respondents’ penchant for trigger warnings became lesser and lesser when we widened our survey results away from undergraduate law students and towards lawyers.

If you look exclusively at non-law students and postgraduate students (this including Graduate Diploma in Law, Bar Professional Training Course and Legal Practice Course students), just 37% want trigger warnings.

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

Leaving students to the side and filtering the results to just include solicitors, barristers, academics, paralegals and ‘Other’, 33% voted in the negative when asked: “Should law tutors and lecturers use trigger warnings when teaching hard subjects, like rape and war crimes?”

Comments for this subset of survey-takers include: “The law doesn’t mollycoddle — if you can’t stomach it then go and do something else”, and “There will be no trigger warnings when in the world of work. Get used to it, you fucking sissy”.

Survey results (all respondents)

Overall, 41% of the 419 people who answered the survey threw their support behind the use of trigger warnings, while 59% did not.

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