Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.
This is a new one.
Some of you may know that there is a wave of colleges and universities filing complaints with the Office for Civil Rights, claiming that their institutions are failing to protect women from sexual assault. This (first) wave includes Amherst, Yale, the University of North Carolina, Swarthmore, and Occidental among others.
Well, last night many of the details of the stories of the students whose cases have been mishandled — right down to exact quotes from their lives — found themselves in an episode of Law&Order SVU. They didn’t ask for permission, offer a “consulting” fee, or even warn them that it was coming.
This just leaves a this-is-so-wrong-I-don’t-even-know icky feeling in the pit of my gut. I know that Law & Order has been ripping stories from the headlines for three decades, but it stuns me that it can claim to be fiction and not compensate the real women who’s lives are clearly and unequivocally depicted in this show.
Let me put this in stark terms: Law & Order is brazenly capitalizing on the pain and trauma of young women and not only failing to compensate them for stealing their stories, but actually denying that they exist by claiming that the “story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.” Stunning.
Alexandra Brodsky, a survivor who filed the complaints against Yale, told Jezebel:
The SVU episode strikes me as an extreme example of the risk of going public as a survivor: your story is no longer your own.
I’ve not seen a more obvious example of this fact.
The teaser for the episode, plus a list of 15 ways the episode copied real life, collected by Katie J.M. Baker at Jezebel, is after the jump.
Here’s the entire list:
SVU: Lindsay is gang-raped by three frat guys who later claim she’s crying rape because she’s embarrassed about her slutty behavior.
Real Life: Four University of Montana football players allegedly gang-raped a drunk female student; charges were dropped because it was unclear whether she was “just embarrassed” about what happened.
SVU: Lindsay Snapchats her rapist the next day, leading students and administrative officials to doubt that she was actually raped.
Real Life: Woman allegedly raped by Mizzou basketball player Michael Dixon Jr. texts him the next day, leading students, officials and cops to doubt that she was actually raped.
SVU: “I’m sorry that girl had a bad night, but why would Travis need to rape somebody?” a frat bro muses.
Real Life: Students at campuses all over the country don’t believe that Big Men on Campus can be rapists.
SVU: Students call Tau Omega the “Rape Factory.”
Real Life: A former Wesleyan student is suing the university for failing to “to supervise, discipline, warn or take other corrective action” against a frat which she says had a “reputation in the Wesleyan community as the ‘Rape Factory.'”
SVU: Renee is pressured to leave school and commit herself to a mental institution after she attempts to self-harm after the school ignores her rape report. Her rapist is set to graduate with honors.
Real Life: Former student Angie Epifano says Amherst abruptly decided to admit her into a psychiatric ward after she made suicidal comments spurred by the despair she felt when her allegations were repeatedly ignored. Her rapist graduated with honors.
SVU: Renee is penalized by her school’s Honor Court for “intimidating her rapist” by speaking out.
Real Life: UNC sophomore Landen Gambill says she was punished by the Office of Student Conduct for “intimidating” her rapist by speaking to the press about her sexual assault.
SVU: Renee is told that sex “is like a football game” by a school official.
Real Life: Former UNC student Annie Clark was told that rape “is like a football game” by an administrator.
SVU: The university’s mental health counselor says she was met with resistance when she tried to support rape survivors’ reports.
SVU: Dean Reyerson says she couldn’t stop Tau Omega alumni from selling “We don’t take ‘no’ for an answer” rush t-shirts.
Real Life: Amherst’s administration came under fire for holding an ineffective closed-door discussion related to a similar frat t-shirt.
SVU: Dean Reyerson says students have the right to assemble, even if they want to chant, “No means yes, yes means anal.”
Real Life: Yale frat boys once gleefully ran around campus chanting exactly that.
SVU: Dean Reyerson says she can’t stop students from posting photos and rumors about rape survivors on an anonymous website because of “free speech.”
Real Life: Oberlin’s administration cites the First Amendment and does next to nothing about undergrads who are seriously harassed via its student-run anonymous message board.
SVU: Lindsay kills herself.
Real Life: Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeberg committed suicide nine days after accusing a Notre Dame football player of sexually assaulting her in a dorm room; Notre Dame investigators failed to interview the student she accused until 15 days after Seeberg reported the attack and five days after she killed herself.
SVU: Frat boys are caught on video joking that they “raped [Lindsay] dead. (Also that they “raped her Gangnam Style,” which is one we haven’t heard before!)
Real Life: Anonymous leaked a video of former Steubenville High School baseball player Michael Nodianos cracking himself up as he calls a rape victim “deader than” JFK, OJ’s wife, Caylee Anthony, and Trayvon Martin, amongst others.
SVU: At the end of the episode, students hold up signs protesting rape culture using real quotes said to them by members of the community following their assaults.
Real Life: Amherst students put together a collection of photos of men and women who were sexually assaulted on campus, holding signs with words said to them by members of the community following their assaults.
SVU: “I was thinking about maybe starting a kind of support group on campus, so survivors know they’re not alone,” Renee says.
Real Life: A group of rape survivors including Dana Bolger (Amherst College ‘14), Alexandra Brodsky (Yale College ‘12, Yale Law School ‘16), Annie Clark (University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill ‘11), and Andrea Pino (UNC — CH ‘14), some of whom have filed complaint with the federal government against their universities, joined together to help students at colleges across the country stand up to administrations; they recently launched “Know Your IX,” a campaign that aims to educate every college student in the U.S. about his or her rights under Title IX by the start of the Fall 2013 academic term.
Here’s the teaser for the episode:Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and Gender, a textbook. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.