#MeToo, Discursive Injustice, and Shifting Social Norms: A Linguistic Case Study of Commonwealth v. William Henry Cosby Jr.
This paper explores the effect of the #MeToo movement on sexual assault discourse and social norms in legal discourse in the United States through a case study of Commonwealth v. William Henry Cosby Jr., a trial that occurred both before and after the emergence of the movement. Specifically, to what extent did #MeToo affect sexual assault culture and discussions around it in legal settings? Using Kukla’s (2014) theoretical framework of Discursive Injustice (DI) in order to analyze portions of Commonwealth v. Cosby, I observe the level of performative power the complainant in the trial, Andrea Constand, is able to express and the frequency with which her expression is limited by other actors, namely defense lawyers. I find that the largest changes in aggressiveness and frequency of DI between the 2017 and 2018 portions of the trial occur during juxtapositions between Constand and “victim” stereotypes of sexual assault. This shift suggests a larger social change in community conventions regarding stereotypes and expectations of sexual assault survivors. This paper augments the growing literatures on the impact of the #MeToo movement on sexual assault culture and DI as a theory of linguistic and social power.
Cite as: Izes, JLL 10 (2021), 48–72, DOI: 10.14762/jll.2021.048
#MeToo, sexual assault, discursive injustice, courtroom language
Master of Arts Candidate in Hofstra University Forensic Linguistics Program
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