Law and Order: SVU aired their take on the UVA rape case last night, in which a seemingly credible young woman says she was gang-raped by a hockey team at New York's fictional Hudson University. In the end—spoiler alert—her story (sort of) falls apart. In between, we got a mixture of smart observations about how rape allegations are handled in the media, and SVU's trademark corny, cringingly ham-handed and caricatured version of real events. Brace yourselves.
The episode begins with Detective Olivia Benson watching "America's Worst Crimes," a super classy TV show which reenacts the young victim, "Jane," getting gang-raped and interviews her in a room that is definitely not dark enough to hide her identity. The mayor's wife is watching the show too, and soon enough, the fictional NYPD is beating down the doors of AWC, trying to find the victim. (The real NYPD was so badly mishandling sexual assault cases that five years ago, then-police commissioner Ray Kelly had to convene a task force and pledge to start retraining officers. Victims and rape crisis counselors alike said the police routinely "ignored or minimized" rape complaints.)
Detectives Rollins and Carisi wind up talking to a Hudson professor who's also Jane's advocate and de facto spokesperson:
It's right here that any devoted SVU fan knows Feminist Professor will be the show's villain, since anyone who doesn't want to cooperate with the heroic police and uses a fruity word like "phallocentric" to boot is definitely Not To Be Trusted.
An exchange moments later between Rollins and Carisi recalls SVU's earliest days, when detectives Ice-T and the 10,000 other identical white men who have been on the show would routinely express skepticism about the credibility of rape claims.
"Rape advocate," Carisi scoffs. "I don't get what that is. There's no burglary advocate. There's no carjacking advocate."
"When was the last time a carjacking victim got asked, 'Are you sure you didn't want your car to get stolen?'" Rollins shoots back.
The SVU team learns Heather's name when they see her speaking at a campus rally against rape, a detail that seems to come from the activism of Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz. Soon enough, the SVU team has dragooned Jane—real name Heather Manning—and Suspiciously Feminist Professor into coming down to the station, where Heather discloses the details of the rape:
Heather also reveals that on her way out of the frat house, the gentlemen living there threw red solo cups at her, called her a whore and chanted, en masse, "Go to church."
Benson also goes to visit to the university's chilly and impeccably made-up president, who says that when Heather first disclosed her story, it only involved one student. The president says she asked Heather "if she's sure it wasn't consensual" and Heather "became defensive" and left her office. (That kind of insitutional warmth and competence, at least, rings true.)
The Man Detectives head to the frat house, where the bros scoff their way through an initial interview. One admits to having sex with her, and the rest acknowledge that they did make her "run the gaunlet" on her way out the door.
But soon enough, the story begins to fall apart, when one of the boys Heather names as an assailant reveals that he was out of town at a soccer match, and has video to prove it. The SVU team begins to suspect that Heather and Bonerkilling Feminazi Professor are colluding in some kind of vicious scheme to fool the American Public into caring about rape:
In the end, Heather confesses: she was drunk at the frat house maybe-or-maybe-not consensual sex with one person when she lost consciousness. She awakened to find a second frat boy raping her. She reveals that Professor Andrea Dworkin Q. Penis-Smasher convinced her that she could have possibly been gang-raped. And like Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Rolling Stone, Skip Peterson, the "America's Worst Crimes" producer, reveals that he didn't thoroughly investigate her claims.
Benson visits the chilly university president again, where they mutually throw up their hands and declare there's nothing they can do about the student who did actually rape Heather. Benson reflects too that the case fit her own pre-conceived notions about campus rape a little too neatly (as, frankly, I had to do with UVA.)
"I don't blame Heather," Benson says. "Skip Peterson and Professor Dylan, they pressured her into coming forward. They thought this would be the case that would change rape culture. And it did. It set the clock back 30 years."
That part, at least, has the depressing ring of truth.
Screengrab via Law and Order:SVU/NBC