How Their Stories Influenced My Story

SVU Promo

It would be impossible to overstate how pivotal Law & Order: SVU has been in spurring me on to talk about what happened to me. Ok, so it’s a great show.  Well written.  I have always loved a legal narrative and this one has characters which leave their mark even with just a one-liner delivered at the right time.  This isn’t a critic’s review, though.  This is another tool in my What Works For Me kit.

Some episodes have resonated in a way I’d rather not have identified with, as I’m sure they have for countless (unfortunately) others.  There are two main ways that this show has inspired and encouraged me in a very personal, particular way.

This show and its story lines are not just television, they’re a community service.   More than a ‘cop drama’, the content we are dealing with here is confronting (as it should be) and many times, graphic.  What SVU does that is of such immeasurable value to the community is bring the stories of victims of sexual crimes to life. Out loud.  Into your home.  While I appreciate that this is blunt, and may be what some/many victims would wish to avoid (and I respectfully acknowledge that everyone responds in their own way), I strongly feel that this material brings important matter into the ‘everyday’.  Into the consciousness (or subconscious) of the regular viewer.  How else would you be exposed to the majority of these ideas and experiences, if you are fortunate enough not to have fallen prey yourself?  It’s not the kind of genre that screams ‘summer read’ and it won’t appear in your popular magazines.

The content is not for everyone and not for every age bracket, sure. But in order to talk about rape and sexual assault in a real way, the terminology must enter the popular vernacular.  Perhaps not some of the terminology (even I can blush there) but the bluntness of characters discussing such crimes must enter the consciousness of the general viewing public as they tune in each week in some way.  It’s pretty hard to avoid.  And with any luck, exposure to this leads to a new awareness of something ordinarily so private, so secret.  The nature of the beast.  I can only imagine how many viewers may have identified with an aspect of a character’s behaviour/reaction, or perhaps a loved one has made the connection and been able to be there for someone who needs it but could not say so.  Even if it has only happened once in the world.  That is an amazing impact.  Indeed, a community service.  A human service.

I wonder if I am alone in the second reason I love this show. Whilst there were a couple of times where episodes were a bit too close to home, on the whole watching SVU served as an example of others ‘fighting the good fight’.  Made my shitty, shameful life seem (unfortunately) the life of others.  This is a comfort in a sad way. DISCLAIMER: Before you start wondering whether I’m living in my tv, I know that I am talking about television and that the actors are characters.  However, they represent the broader experiences of real people, real police and real legal representatives.  Life isn’t quite television but hey, even on SVU, they good guys don’t always win (much to my chagrin).  You know what they do do?  They fight for it. They try.  They listen and believe.  And they get pissed off when they hear what the bad guys have done.  Yay!  No one I disclosed to was affronted on my behalf, outraged and ready to fight.  They talked it down, blamed and pressured me to shut up.  Oh, how I had wished a Stabler, Benson, Fin or good old Munch would hear my plea and be fired into action. I got something out of watching the ‘good versus bad’ chase.  Those cops talk to perps like I wanted to. You think you’re so tough?  Not above the law…*menacing, knowing stare then walk away leaving ’em sweat*

If I’m honest, it gave me a bit of a high.  And considering some of the options we all do think about from time to time when we’re hurting, tv is a pretty safe one.

So SVU made me feel less of a freak, helped me to imagine that ‘the system’ would work, I got some vicarious pleasure from watching Benson and Stabler mess with bad guys and it made me feel stronger.  These characters were pissed off, they questioned political failings and the common mistreatment of victims.  Through the medium of a tv drama, so perhaps a little less offensive to the Average Joe who might normally see those issues as something ‘other people’ need to deal with or be oblivious to the lack of funding for DNA testing, etc.  That is inspiring to me.  The characters struggled with emotion, got angry and sad and aggressive.  Like normal people should.  They weren’t perfect.  But they had passion for the cause.  And I didn’t have any real-life models of that.  I was asked instead why I would want to speak about any of it, why I didn’t want to ‘get over it’.  I answered, as I do now, because I want to fight it.  I want to share.  I want to make one other person feel less alone and ashamed.  I want to make people deal with this shit.  I had to!  While victims (or another term, that’s individual, too) are made to feel ashamed and guilty, the power remains in the hands of the sexual offenders (I have other terms for that one, too).

So this is a nod to Cragen, Benson, Stabler, Munch, Fin, Cabot and the rest…I will always be grateful for what you have done, and continue to do.  I think it’s pretty special.  And I for one am eternally grateful for the bravery shown by the writers and producers to tackle this issue so well.  You have had an enormous impact on the dialogue in the community and giving victims a louder voice.

Mariska Hargitay (coolest kick-ass woman on tv, Det Olivia Benson) started the Joyful Heart Foundation.  The link is also in other parts of this blog. Awesome.  Inspiring.  Thank you.