Awesome “Law and Order: SVU” Moment

Law and Order costars Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay posed together

Last week’s episode of “Law and Order: SVU” featured an awesome moment that I wanted to share with you all. While victim-blaming has become disturbingly common in the mainstream media, the writers over at SVU provided a refreshing alternative to this familiarly misogynistic paradigm.

The moment came when Detective Elliott Stabler (played by Christopher Meloni) was interviewing a victim of sexual assault. She is describing the crime, and begins by recounting the fact that she had been on her way to work as a stripper when it took place. She says “Yeah yeah, I know, I’m a stripper” in anticipation of being victim-blamed. His response? “It doesn’t matter what you do, doesn’t mean that’s an excuse for you to be sexually assaulted.” Elliot FTW.

While the concept that no woman deserves to be sexually assaulted may seem like a basic, even rudimentary notion, we all know it can be shockingly tough for some folks to grasp.

And while I sometimes have difficulty watching SVU because of the extreme depictions of violence against women and sexual assault it contains, I think we can all agree that this was a pretty great message to be sent in a primetime TV show. I also appreciate that the show exposes some of the extreme misogyny that underlies sex crimes, and, for the most part, the show is cutting edge when it comes to dealing with gender issues.

H/t to Heidi Vanderlee for bringing this bit of feminist media to my attention!

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/starzki6/ ellestar

    I stopped watching SVU some time back because I actually work with survivors of sexual assault and couldn’t handle having it as a part of my entertainment.

    SVU is interesting. It does do better than most media at depicting sexual assault.

    It also does worse. For example, when compared with actual false reporting statistics (around 3% nationally), SVU does a terrible job at representing them. On the show, false reporting is done often and with great malice by the women involved. In showing these kinds of episodes, I fear that SVU might be damaging the discourse on sexual assault in real life, rather than helping it.

    • http://feministing.com/members/leebee3b/ leebee3b

      That’s interesting! I also work with survivors of sexual assault, child abuse, and domestic violence and I find SVU deeply satisfying sometimes. I think it’s because it’s presented and wrapped up so neatly, within an hour, unlike in real life, where abuse can go on for a very long time, and where the ramifications and effects are often even longer.

  • http://feministing.com/members/zeenacheda/ Dan C

    Awesome. A great show!!

  • http://feministing.com/members/probablywriting/ Amanda

    One thing I do love about Law & Order SVU is that they consistently tell victims (and therefore viewers) that there is never a justified rape and any individual, regardless of race, class, sexual history, profession, or whatever else, always has the right to say no and have it be respected. Unfortunately, I don’t think that message is heard by the mainstream a lot, and SVU helps get the message out there.

    • http://feministing.com/members/rk/ Anne Marie

      I agree, close family and friends are sometimes confused as to how I can watch SVU but not be able to watch Family Guy (well, the newer episodes) or certain South Park episodes and the difference is that one is a drama that takes the rape seriously and the others are mocking it and making it a punchline for (generally) those men who do not fear being raped. SVU may discuss ideas of victim blaming and apologism but they usually come down on the correct side and as a victim, it’s nice to see people get justice, even if only in fiction.

  • http://feministing.com/members/spedteach09/ Geri Gaddy

    @ ellestar
    Shortly after I started watching the show on it’s TBS marathon days, I was raped. I know I was influence to not report it because I was worried similar character bashing would happen to me, and I didn’t want to risk my career/reputation. I now realize it probably wouldn’t have gone like that but my world was rocked then, so I can’t blame myself.

    • http://feministing.com/members/starzki6/ ellestar

      I’m so sorry, Geri.

      The thing I’ve learned when talking to survivors is that no one can really predict anyone’s reactions to disclosure of sexual assault better than the victims, themselves. It might not have been as bad as you saw on SVU. It also might have been worse, since it was happening to you, in real life, with real feelings and emotions involved.

      I’ve heard the most horrible things about police and court systems that I can’t judge anyone who refuses to put themselves through that.

      You survived. That was all you had to do. After that, anything else you chose in regards to recovering from sexual assault (reporting it or not) that you have to do in order to keep yourself as healthy and sane as possible shouldn’t be judged.

      I’m glad you’re not blaming yourself. And I’m so sorry that you’ve had to deal with it at all.

  • http://feministing.com/members/karenoh/ Karen Smith

    Moments of basic empathy for survivors doesn’t undo the show’s role in glamourizing sexual assault. The show diverged from the basic Law & Order format by hiring younger, hotter actors and painting a sensationalist sheen over the proceedings. The cops rush into apartments to prevent survivors from leaping to their deaths! They collapse into a heap and cry in each other’s arms! The show might as well be called “Law & Order: Isn’t Rape Exciting?”

    • http://feministing.com/members/dzuunmod/ Josh

      I mean, I *agree*, but I also disagree. Doesn’t TV try to glamourize any subject that it takes on? This isn’t specific to sexual assault, this happens with hospitals, police departments, law firms and… wait? Do they even make dramas set in any places other than those anymore? Anyway, everything that TV gets its hands on, it sexes up and overly glamourizes.

      Also, Hargitay and Meloni are hot, sure, but this is a show that also features Ice-T, Richard Belzer and Dann Florek, while the original show (right around the time SVU started) had Benjamin Bratt and Angie Harmon. Can we agree they were both widely considered heartthrobs at the time?

  • http://feministing.com/members/gringuitainkeffiyeh/ Hani

    I loved that moment! Also, there was a part when a dude says something like “If God gives you a baby, you should keep the baby,” and Eliot totally calls him out: “We’ll listen to your opinion when you have a uterus.”

  • http://feministing.com/members/braveasanoun/ braveasanoun

    This reminded me of another scene from a different episode.

    A dead woman was on top of a car from jumping or falling off a balcony. She was dressed in lingerie, and they suspected someone broke in. One of the cops made a comment about how her attire wasn’t exactly “saying no”, and Stabler called him out on it. That made me happy.

  • dotathampshire

    I thought this episode was really complicated and problematic (as most SVU episodes are). This episode actually focused a lot on a male rape victim/survivor who was assaulted by three females. Det. Benson did her best to help the survivor, but Det. Stabler kept asserting that there was no way that he could have been raped. Especially because he was male, and bigger, and they were just women.

    So although he said that positive thing to the woman about her profession/clothing/etc. not being an excuse to be assaulted, he did a lot of damage in regards to the reality that males can be raped as well. It’s completely real, and it’s not something that’s talked about.

    Det. Benson and the DA did their best, but there were just so many fucked up comments in that episode regarding gender and rape that weren’t really addressed that I found it really appalling.

    • http://feministing.com/members/dzuunmod/ Josh

      But, do you want TV that depicts reality or strives to create a new reality? Let’s be honest – there are probably loads of cops and lawyers out there who hold the opinions Stabler expressed in the episode. And also, you usually need conflict to create drama. If all of the characters agreed with one another all the time, the show would be boring.

      In fact, they already do that often enough – where the characters are all sitting around in the bullpen explaining to one another why something was or wasn’t rape, when in fact they’re all in agreement. I understand why the writers need that to happen sometimes, but it doesn’t change the fact that those scenes feel really forced.