The world of NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is unraveling fast. First, it feels justified in showing a conservative pundit brutally raped. Then, it argues the merits of euthanizing a baby. Now, it’s advocating the “convict first, ask questions later” system of trying college rape cases. Whatever path the show is going down, I don’t want to be a part of it.
The March 7 “In Loco Parentis” episode begins with a rape tribunal on a college campus. The female victim is Detective Carisi’s (Peter Scanavino) niece, Mia, and when he finds out what happened and that the alleged rapist was only given a one-year suspension by the school, he wants to open up a police investigation.
Unfortunately, ADA Peter Stone (Philip Winchester) notes that “despite Betsy DeVos,” New York universities only need a preponderance of evidence to convict a student of rape, but state criminal cases need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Already we’re off to a messy start. Our heroic detectives are despairing over the fact that the case needs actual evidence to convict eighteen-year-old student Ethan in a court of law rather than just the word of Carisi's niece. When lawyers and detectives are eager to move past the legal system and dismiss Education Secretary DeVos working to bring back due process on campuses as an obstacle, we’re in trouble.
The plot thickens when Mia admits to her uncle that she did consent to sex. He tells her she needs to make things right and apologize to Ethan. Then the episode follows up with another twist: when Mia invites Ethan to talk he rapes her - for real this time! His motivation? Her false allegations made him mad and the "PC" culture labeled him as a rapist, so he might as well rape her. He even states as much on the stand.
Stone: What were you studying in college?
Ethan: I was premed.
Stone: Hmm. You were going to be a doctor.
Ethan: I was. A neurosurgeon. But that's gone now.
Stone: You don't think you'll be acquitted?
Ethan: [Scoffs] You know what? It doesn't matter. I'm already wearing the scarlet R. My friends won't talk to me. You know, since Hudson booted me, I applied to six other colleges. I got 700s on my SATs, and that wasn't good enough. Once the PC police get their fangs into you, your life in polite society is over.
Stone: And that's-- that's what happened to you?
Ethan: Sure is. All it takes is one girl to say you looked at her funny, and that's it. Your life's over.
Stone: Yeah, but you did more than look at Mia funny, Ethan.
Ethan: Why, because she said so? Look, that first time in her dorm, we were in it together. You heard what her uncle, the cop, said. I didn't rape her.
Stone: You were railroaded.
Ethan: That's right.
Stone: And the bleeding hearts didn't want to hear the truth.
Ethan: [Scoffs] They wouldn't know the truth if it hit them in the face. They sit there with their self-righteous grins, pointing their fingers at you, whether you did something wrong or not.
Stone: And it pisses you off.
Ethan: You're damn right, it does.
Stone: And when you went to Mia's dorm room, you planned on telling her just how much it pissed you off.
Ethan: That damn school, they wrap themselves in their political correctness and their honor code, only they don't know the first thing about honor.
Stone: You were accused; therefore, you were guilty.
Ethan: That's right. I was already labeled a rapist. What the hell? I might as well be a rapist.
Stone: And who better to rape than Mia Marino?
Ethan: That's right! The bitch ruined me, and I got to ruin her.
In the end, he is sentenced to seven years, and the Special Victims Unit gets vindicated for wanting to prosecute someone for a crime he didn’t commit since he ended up being a criminal anyway. The fact that no one sees a problem with this is almost as concerning as the case itself. Due process and the legal system could be eroded because a girl falsely claims to be raped, and now our media creates narratives that support it. Never mind the innocent students who suffer for it.
SVU can put all our complaints in the mouth of a rapist, but that doesn’t change the truth. Women are safer in college campuses than they are out of them, and many rape cases have fallen apart under scrutiny. Promoting the opposite doesn’t make these facts go away.