Since I’ve criticized Law & Order: SVU without citing examples in the past, I promised a while ago to watch an episode and write about it. Today I finally got around to doing that. I know this show can do better than the episode I saw today, so I’m not representing this as absolutely typical. It’s just a good example of when they fall well below my idea of a reasonable standard in sexual assault storylines.
The episode was “Taken”. A cute young white boy had supposedly raped and badly beaten a cute young white girl. Well, specifically a Southern young white girl from North Carolina. That’s important to know, so you can appreciate the whole avalanche of stereotypes later on.
They had their perp within the first half hour, so what does that mean, readers? He’s not the real perp. Yes, very good. And in a rape storyline, what does that almost guarantee? The victim lied. Oh, you guys are great!
As the cops investigated, and the cute young white guy got beaten regularly at Rikers awaiting his trial, it became apparent that the girl’s family – specifically her brother – had set her up to be raped. Then it became apparent that she was a participant in the scam, the sex had been consensual (so had the beating the family laid on her to make it look real) and the cute young white guy had been set up. All so the Southern family could collect a bogus insurance check as hush money from the hotel where the rape happened.
Now, I know you know the answer to this question: what happened to the cute young white guy while the cops were sorting this out? Yes, you got it! He was raped and killed by inmates! Because that’s never happened in three dozen shows before.
Let’s review the stereotypes:
- Damn bitches always lyin’ about bein’ raped. Yes, there are still a shocking number of people who seem to think there are more innocent men in jail on rape charges than there are raped women in the country. No, a TV show is not responsible for that. But as I’ve explained before if you want to play Plot Twister with one of the most misunderstood, prevalent and heinous crimes available in human experience, expect criticism. (Yes, murder sucks too, but the difference is the audience is in general agreement about that, and no one’s odds of being murdered are anything like a woman’s or child’s odds of being raped.)
- Poor cute white guy… we knew he couldn’t be guilty because he looked so nice. This is actually a pretty loaded issue, so please bear with me. First, it’s a tragedy anytime anyone is unfairly prosecuted or incarcerated. But in reality, minorities are much more vulnerable to wrongful convictions than whites, and false rape accusations are no more common than false accusations about any other crime. The Poor White Guy in this story, like in so many others TV shows and movies of the week, plays into the fears of viewers who worry if they give an inch to equality, society as they know it will come tumbling down. Poor White Guy, like Jesus, is sacrificed to a pack of lies from crazed liberal wackos who will ruin us all.
- Crazy sex-obsessed work-avoidant Southern whites. Yes, I lived in the South for years as a kid. Yes, I found that culture to be rife with open gender bias and I criticize it for that. But you know what? Stereotyping Southern and poor whites as lazy, perverted scam artists is not cool. Southerners are no more likely to pull scams instead of working for a living than trust fundies in Beverly Hills or middle class people in Pittsburgh. Neither are they especially sex-crazed, perverted, abusive toward their children or family or prone to lying. Nor, I would even argue, are they anymore predisposed to gender, race and class bias than the people in any other region where I’ve lived. In fact, most days I rather think I prefer the open bigotry of the South (at least you know what you’re dealing with) to the more insidious versions of the stuff in other areas.
It’s not like it was a great episode otherwise. It was predictable, even by Law & Order standards. Even the bit where Benson refused to take time off after her mother died. I mean, all I knew about her mom was that she was an abusive drunk, and I knew immediately to expect the litany of “Olivia, what are you doing here, you’re supposed to be taking time off?” intervention tactics.
She really should have. She wouldn’t have missed anything.