Monday, February 21, 2011

PAVE discusses sexual assault myths from "Law & Order"

On Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011 at 7 PM, Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE) screened an episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” called “Confrontation.” Post the viewing, PAVE hosted discussion about the portrayal of, among other things, rape and stalking.

“Confrontation” opens with the rape of Elizabeth held at knifepoint. She soon confronts her rapist with a club and starts to hit him. Detective Stabler, lead detective for the Special Victims Unit, eventually finds her dead in an alley. Her murder sparks an intense investigation into a series of rapes in the Brooklyn area. During the investigation, the SVU discovers the victim had been stalked by her rapist and was likely rape more than once. This holds true with the rapist’s other victims. Throughout the episode, his other two victims encounter a lot of turmoil, including one, Gina, committing suicide. Eventually Luke Dixon, an office assistant at the realtor’s office his victims were renting through, is arrested for his heinous crimes. It is later uncovered that he rapes women to impregnate and thus create a master race.

All of the students found “Confrontation” disturbing, especially its pervasive stereotypes. The first myth the show encourages: victims do not know their attackers. This is false. Around 90 percent of rapes occur by someone close to the survivor—an acquaintance, a friend or partner. Myth number two: survivors cannot be raped more than once. This, too, is false, especially since rape survivors are at least twice (and even as high as four times) more likely to be raped again, with people caught in a cycle of domestic violence often experiencing repeated rape. Myth three: rape is only rape when it’s violent. Only 10 percent of rapists use extreme force and/or a weapon. The fourth myth the students remarked on was the show’s notion that there is only one way to “get over” being raped: anger. There is no one or right way to cope with being assaulted; every victim is different, every victim wants and needs different things. Saying there is only one way to heal adds to the victim blaming that often occurs.

Although the students were upset with the episode’s myths, they did remark on its highlights. For instance, “SVU” did a good job of portraying that rape is not about sex, but instead about power and control (although “Confrontation” did say it was about power and rage, which perpetuates the image of rape as angry and violent). In addition, the episode did an excellent job of showing how under-reported rape is because of victim’s fear of not being believed. The episode even touched on victim blaming, showcasing that it is not always men who blame women (who are the primary victims) for the rape. That said, students were upset that victim-blaming occurred in the first place.

Stalking was another crime featured in the episode. Students remarked that it was barely touched on, and even though it occurred, it was sensationalized and suggested that all stalkers are psychopaths. This is a falsehood some people would like viewers to believe, when in fact more than 75 percent of victims are stalked by someone they know, while 30 percent of victims are stalked by current or former intimate partners.

By portraying rape and stalking in sensationalized ways, the media perpetuates myths and stereotypes about these two topics. This is not to say that all media does this, and therefore that media is bad. However, one needs to use a critical eye and hear when the media talks about said issues; enabling stereotypes only covers up the reality.

-Cara Dorzok