In comments of the Trigger By Void thread, Shaker Kevin Wolf asked about Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which is the series in the Law & Order franchise that deals with, according to its opening narration, "sexually based offenses."
I've been thinking about my Law & Order addiction, which includes L&O Special Victims Unit, a program I am sure you do not watch as virtually every scene is just about every episode would contain a trigger. … Unfortunately, this means that as I think about the program, the very people most likely to have something really important to say do not watch it.
(That's only part of his comment; the rest you can find here.)

Well, I have watched L&O:SUV, although I rarely watch it anymore, and it's not because it triggers me, but because it infuriates me. Let me stipulate right up front that I have seen the occasional episode that I thought dealt well with whatever issue it was addressing, so what I'm saying from here on out isn't blanket condemnation, and no one needs to say, "But what about this episode?" and "But what about that episode?" I acknowledge there are some decent episodes.

That said, there are a lot of indecent episodes, in every sense of the word.

The show's biggest problem is that it uses the same formula as the original L&O, which is to regularly take stories "ripped from the headlines" and then present them with a Crazy Twist!!1! to undermine your expectations. (Dunh-dunh!) Except, when you're dealing with a subject like sexual assault, that big subversive twist tends to be making a woman the rapist! Or the rape accuser a liar! Which is not to say that women never sexually assault, or false rape accusations are never made, but both of those things happen in reality at a rate of <1%. I can guarantee you both of those things have happened at a rate higher than 1% in L&O:SVU.

Probably, someone, somewhere, with a lot of time and energy, has compared the sexual assault victims of L&O:SVU to the stats on real-life victims, and the two don't look anything alike. (Ditto sexual assaulters.)

Beyond that, the show just reinforces so many flatly untrue cultural narratives about sexual assault. If all you knew about sexual assault was from L&O:SVU, you'd think stranger rape was more pervasive than rape by an intimate (wrong), you'd think that women were frequently sexual predators (wrong), you'd think that women routinely make up rape accusations (wrong), you'd think that most rape victims look like "rape victims," i.e. black eye, finger marks on wrists, etc. (wrong), you'd think that physical evidence was available in a plurality of rape cases (wrong), you'd think that most sexual assaulters were caught and convicted (wrong), and you'd think that cops mostly side with victims (wrongity-wrong-wrong).

And, by nature of the fact that it's a TV show, and TV shows want pretty people for their audience to gaze at, the victims of sexual assault featured on the show are almost always young and attractive. It's rare that you get an episode where the victim is an old lady, or a fat person, or someone who would generally be considered Less Than Perfect. What's seriously creepy is that even all the child victims are beautiful, flawless children—it's not like there's ever a fat, pimpled, buck-toothed tween who's victimized. All of which ultimately serves to reinforce the meme that rape is a compliment.

The problem with L&O:SVU is ultimately this: If it reflected the reality of sexual assault, it would be a "boring" show. Woman gets raped; it's her boyfriend. Woman gets raped; it's her male lab partner. Girl gets raped; it's her stepdad. Woman gets raped; it's her male date. Girl gets raped; it's her male teacher. Girl gets raped; it's her dad. Woman gets raped; it's her male boss. Woman gets raped; it's a guy she met at a bar. Woman gets raped; it's her male coworker. Boy gets raped; it's his male scout leader. Girl gets raped; it's her male soccer coach. Woman gets raped; it's her ex-boyfriend…

We'd have to go on a long way like that before we got to a female assaulter or a false accusation. It would even be awhile before we got to a stranger rape on the street (or in Central Park, ahem); women are three times more likely to be raped by someone they know than a stranger, and nine times more likely to be raped in their home, the home of someone they know, or anywhere else than being raped on the street.

Further, if L&O:SVU reflected the reality of sexual assault across the nation, much of the drama would be in the sexual assault victims trying to get the cops to believe them and investigate their assault. But it's a show about hero cops, whose infrequent disbelief of their victims either turns out to be well-founded, or evokes in them great shame after they've endeavored to do their job despite their doubts and prove themselves wrong. In real life, cops who don't believe you don't investigate.

Not like Benson and Stabler do, anyway.

Especially not if you have the temerity of being an imperfect rape victim, like having been voluntarily intoxicated at the time, being a sex worker, lacking physical evidence, or appearing more angry and pragmatic or less upset and humiliated than the officer who takes your statement expects a "real" rape victim to be.

Certainly, L&O:SVU has had good intentions toward, and possibly had some success with, de-stigmatizing sexual assault. The show generally does not treat surviving sexual assault as something of which to be ashamed, and, for the most part, doesn't engage in explicit victim-blaming (although there are certainly plenty of episodes rife with the thinly veiled suggestion if only she hadn't been engaged in this illicit activity…). And I imagine there are some survivors of sexual assault who find catharsis in the fantasy of the show, who revel in the simple satisfaction of its frequent justice.

But I'm not certain that whatever positives there are to the show, balanced against the show's faults, calculate to a net positive. Is there enough subversion of the culturally compulsory shamefulness of sexual assault to justify buttressing all the erroneous narratives about rape? I don't know. I suspect not.


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