But if this predictable, formulaic depiction of justice is Law & Order: SVU’s greatest comfort, it is also its greatest deception. The show has managed to convince a generation of viewers that cops are largely benevolent workaholics who will always do their best to seek justice for victims, that their occasional forays into unconstitutional behavior are always justified. But law enforcement officers routinely ignore sex crimes altogether, commit inconceivable sexual violence themselves, and face little (if any) retribution.
I’ve never reported any of my assaults. By the time I was old enough to have the option, I knew better than to think I had a chance at obtaining justice through the courts. But I kept watching SVU, content to see narrow visions of justice played out each episode with microwaveable resolutions all but guaranteed. It still felt good to see non-convictions as an anomaly, to be shocked the few times the bad guy got away. In a far away TV world where “sexually-based offenses are considered especially heinous,” I delighted in figuring out each episode’s puzzle and maintaining some level of passive control.
But sexual assault isn’t simple. It does not tie up neatly at the end of an episode with a guilty verdict or the efforts of magically warm-hearted cops sympathetic to the victims they encounter. Sometimes your perpetrator emails you and asks you to lunch after the “incident.” Sometimes you tell yourself it wasn’t “that bad.” Trauma doesn’t have a predictable storyline. Law & Order: SVU gave me comfort by telling me stories of “dedicated detectives” who fought hard fights for easy solutions. But in a world where I can never take my bodily autonomy for granted, I need more than quick fixes to heal. And there’s no script for that.
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