“She Picked The Wrong Thing To Lie About” and Other Casually Blame-y Statements from the Good Detectives over at Special Victims.
by new hystericisms
The new season of SVU premieres tonight on NBC and, before it does, I’d like to voice a few concerns. No matter how much it hit me right in the goddam heart when Benson said, “I’m just. so. tired” after another rapist walked free, or how many government conspiracy rants Munch got to go on, or even how badass it was when Rollins waited with her feet kicked up for some creeper from ep. 10 to come home asking for his
hostage girlfriend, so she could drawl, “Naw, how bout some handcuffs instead, baby?” there were still a lot of things about last season that pissed me off.
What Ice T said. I don’t know if it was just an attempt to cover their bases if Mariska Hargitay didn’t return to the show, or if someone thought it seemed like a “realistic” response to Stabler’s departure, but it seemed like the point of season 13 was Ruin Olivia For Everyone (and also to come up with ridiculous fake social networking sites; FaceUnion, I’m looking at you). Well, guess what, she’s back, haterz. And not just to suck face with Harry Connick Jr., either. So, bring the old Benson back already. You know, the one who would shoot you the Glare of Death if you even insinuated blaming a victim. And also maybe just shoot you, if you deserved it. Not the one who doubts survivors to the point where ADA Cabot (Fuck Yeah, Alex Cabot) basically has to yell “Well, I believe her!” at her (ep. 1). And definitely not the one who responded to Rollin’s disclosure that she had been assaulted with some weird chastise-y thing about how she was letting “them” win by not reporting (ep. 8). Um, yeah, was she letting “them” win last episode when she SHOT THAT GUY IN THE CHEST and saved your ass? There’s this thing called compassion. You used to kind of be known for it. But seriously, guys, Olivia Benson is (was?) a great female character—an empowered, independent sympathetic, intelligent, badass advocate for survivors of violence. What, may I ask, is the reason for changing that?
So, aside from The Detective Formerly Known as Olivia Benson, some of my biggest problems with last season are as follows. First of all, lady-perps. Look, I know, everyone likes a good she-devil. It makes for Good TeeVee, or something. But I’m gonna get serious for a second. While it’s not SVU‘s responsibility to be a PSA for Violence Against Women, they are probably the main show on television that deals with the issue. Interesting and compelling plots may be their number one priority (HA just kidding), but let’s face it. This show is actually shaping people’s perception of sexual assault. Over at Gender Focus they point out that “[r]ealism on television can impact our perceptions of reality. Law and Order: SVU has over 14 million viewers in the United States alone each week, making it a leading source of information on violence against women.” And here’s the thing: sexual assault is a gendered form of violence. Most victims are women and almost all perpetrators are men. 98% of sexual assaults are committed by men, but there is a whole lotta denial around this (mainly spewing from the mouths of conservative politicians) and we need to recognize the problem and admit to it before we can eliminate it. Law & Order: SVU, right now you’re not really helping.
So, we have the preppy girls straight out of Gossip Girl sexually assaulting a vulnerable boy, the female teacher sexually assaulting a male student, the cold-hearted siren who tricks all the male police officers with her Feminine Wiles And Charms and laughs maniacally with no remorse (oh, sorry writers, you forgot for a second you weren’t writing lines for Ursula the Sea Witch?) and then, of course, the Poor Ugly Outcast who wants her Pretty Popular Roommate to get raped because, everyone knows, bitchez be jealous. Ugh. And to top it all off they say something horrific about how they interrogated all those men but in the end it was a Fellow Woman. I’d go get the exact quote but I just really don’t want to listen to it again.
And then all the liars! SVU loves the liars. The “completely fictional” DSK episode, to which I have nothing more to say except that I can’t even. Then, the ensuing girls who maybe probably told the truth about this particular rape but lied about what type of juice they drank for breakfast or something so their credibility goes down the tube and NOW WE’LL NEVER KNOW. It’s episodes like those that make the movie I discussed in my previous post, Gone, stand out even more. If you doubted the survivor in that movie, in the end you got proven hella wrong. All too often in SVU episodes, the opposite happens. You are left to wonder. It’s in cases like those that I think Johanson’s snark would be much better placed.
And then Chloe Sevigny’s character happened. If SVU has a liar, it’s not just a scared or confused woman, it’s a woman who loves lying about rape and even pretends to be raped in front of her husband for more of a thrill. Because rape fantasies! And then she gets away with it because she charms a man on the jury (much like the aforementioned Russian Siren who puts all the male policemen under her spell because evil women are everywhere. I can just hear Ryan Lochte shouting JEAH! in agreement somewhere). Meanwhile, over here in real life, women are scared to come forward because they have been treated with suspicion and disbelief. Shall we look for a connection? Instead, how about everyone just Starts By Believing because, like Olivia, I’m just. so. tired.
But that’s not all. There’s also the Men Who Didn’t Mean to Rape so It’s Not Their Fault and They are the Real Victims. Hold on before you yell. I’m not saying I mind that they did an episode about a football player who sustained injuries that caused dementia so he didn’t know what he was doing, but, to be blunt, I kind of don’t think that changes anything for the girl. Yet they COMPLETELY drop her from the story once it’s been determined that he didn’t mean to. They act like she never even existed and the episode was about him the whole time. And then he kills himself and it’s supposed to be really sad and it ends without ever going back to her story. Similarly, there was the episode where the girl pretended to be her roommate while chatting online to a man (a judge!) and told him she wanted to be fake-raped so that she could get her roommate actually raped. But then even though that girl fought for her fucking life, she didn’t say the “safe word” so the judge had no idea, so it’s not his fault. Is it just me or is it a little hard to believe that he didn’t have the slightest hint that she was genuinely terrified? And, okay, maybe, but then on top of that they want me to feel bad for him instead of her? What part of that makes her any less raped?
So, why do I care so much? Why hold them to a high standard? Well, I think it’s because there is also so much good in this show. Even, I’ll admit, in this past season. In the episode “True Believers,” they take on the issue of completely unrelated aspects of a survivor’s personal life being used in an attempt to undermine her credibility. Like having a one night stand. Because having a one night stand means you can’t ever be raped because you are a Loose Woman and there’s this thing called Legitimate Rape. Also, SVU actually takes on the fact that reporting isn’t for everyone and that the system isn’t perfect. And that, sometimes, it can make things horrible for a woman coming forward. At the end of the episode, after her rapist walks free, the survivor says to Olivia, “Don’t you dare tell me that was worth it. That was UGLY.”
They also did an episode on a girl in a psychiatric ward who nobody has ever believed. Those are the episodes that I admire. More of that! Either way, of course, I’m probably still going to watch every episode of this season (Lindy West has a few theories as to why: What Is It With Women and SVU?). But I am hoping for just a little more reality infused into the episodes this time around. Because it helps to have a show that acknowledges the truths about sexual assault when so many other voices in the media are denying them. SVU has absolutely started down that road; I’d love to see them continue further on it this season. And, like Lindy West says,
Yes… they seem weirdly focused on “showing both sides” even when one side is a bunch of backwards anti-woman douchebags, and sometimes they get shit completely wrong. But with all the rape apologia out there, the denial of rape culture from every direction.. I can’t get too mad about a show that actually acknowledges some of the violent truths about being a woman.
(While searching for quotes from specific episodes, I found Emma’s hilarious episode recaps over at The Popsicle. If she does them again this season, you should probably read every single one.)