Look: I know TV isn’t real. But I guess I thought that after nearly 20 seasons, NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit would look more like the real NYPD in how they handle rape victims and their cases. Specifically, that dedicated detectives like Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) would listen sympathetically to the details of my assault. Turns out, that was just more TV magic, inventing fictional institutional support for victims where there isn’t any! Here are five times SVU gave me an overly romantic portrayal of what it’s like to report your rape.
Season 1, Episode 3 (“…Or Just Look Like One”)
After a teenager is found beaten, raped and dumped outside a hotel, Benson and Stabler do everything in their power to track down her assaulter and hold him responsible, instead of merely chastising the girl for breaking curfew. Even though the young woman is clearly troubled, the entire squad uses the information she has to pursue the case, rather than telling her she’s just making things up for attention, which is seems to be procedure for actual cops based on real experiences that were not written for television.
Season 7, Episode 14 (“Taboo”)
Even when they find out that their supposed victim has a shady past, Benson and Stabler continue investigating her case instead of declaring her a psychotic liar. When they find out that she’s been the victim of incest, they prosecute, instead of brushing it off by saying it’s not as bad as being raped by a stranger. Compare that to, say, Captain Peter Rose, who in January of 2017 suggested that date rape was “not a trend that we’re too worried about.” Another case of the media glamming up a boring profession with their Hollywood magic!
Season 16, Episode 5 (“Pornstar’s Requiem”)
A rape victim also happens to be a porn star. The detectives take her statement. Her profession is not used against her by the very people tasked with helping her, nor do they pressure her to find other work. I didn’t realize this show should be categorized as fantasy.
Season 11, Episode 12 (“Shadow”)
The daughter of a murdered couple (Sarah Paulson) believes she is being stalked by a man who turns out to be a cop. This cop is actually tracking her suspicious behavior, not groping her and then blaming his behavior on his supervisor, like real SVU officer Lukasz Skorzewski did in August 2016. Protecting and serving the people is just a flashy tagline, not an actual requirement of working in law enforcement. So don’t buy into this fanciful show.
Every time Detective Benson said “it’s not your fault” to the victim
That would have been cool for the police to do, like I would have appreciated that, you know?
Remember, television isn’t for real. Cops aren’t tall and beautiful with clear skin, tragic backstories, and a working understanding of rape culture. It’s important to manage your expectations before thinking that TV represents real life!