Seriously now, Law & Order SVU is writing itself from news headlines. I am starting to believe there is an automated SVU episode generator and no real writers. Law & Order SVU “Pornstar’s Requiem” is another ripped from the headlines story. It closely duplicates the story of “Belle Knox,” a Duke University student and adult film star, who, once outed as a porn star, was subsequently harassed, including threats of rape and violence. The lesson learned from this episode is it doesn’t matter in what profession one is in, when it comes to sex, “No means no.” Period. Just because adult film workers are willing to have sex on screen and get paid for it, this should never be taken as automatic consent to sex under any circumstances. Sex workers, like anyone else, can still be victims of sex crime.
Despite this episode clearly being a regurgitation of a real life news story, the writers (okay, I do believe there are real SVU writers) crafted a fine story with a sympathetic victim. It also put Benson in another situation where her management skills and her mind-set were tested.
In this episode, two college students who never have given Evie Barnes the time of day quickly escalate to raping her once they find she is a porn star. There is some discussion with the SVU team and ADA Barba regarding difficulties they face in moving forward with such a case, but Benson is firm that Evie is a victim. Matters get worse when the defense attorney gleefully hands them evidence showing Evie did more than one video, and one of those additional videos mirrors the video record of the rape.
As the local newspapers pile on, Deputy Chief Dodds adds fuel to the fire by accusing Benson of having an agenda. Benson later seems to validate his point when, after Evie is expelled from the university, she intercedes with the Hudson University president. Keep in mind that the Hudson president was already annoyed at SVU for its lack of courtesy shown to her by not alerting her to the rape allegations. It’s a sad fact that sometimes in a management position, one needs a degree of savvy when it comes to navigating internal and external politics. Had Benson approached the president and apologized for not giving her the courtesy of informing her of the allegations at the onset, she may have found the president more receptive to alternatives for Evie. All that said, I agree that the Hudson president had little choice but to expel Evie for violating their code by doing the porn videos, assuming that code is spelled out for students as they enter the university. Benson better learn quickly that she can’t operate effectively in management by standing on her principles alone. She needs to work to cultivate relationships with those outside the SVU circle so they understand better what her job – not her “agenda” – is about. Benson, like Evie, may be a bit naïve; Evie not realizing her videos would be discovered by others at the university, and Benson not realizing that a leadership role doesn’t mean you have complete control.
This brings me to Dodds, who clearly has his own biases and maybe his own agenda. He has an issue with Benson which seems based on the opinions of others, and those others may have biases and opinions of their own. We can only wonder at this point if he is simply testing her resolve, or if he is a giant prick, or a little of both. He is actually giving her good advice when he tells her to pick her battles. While I understand Benson wanting Evie to have another chance at Hudson, she picked the wrong battle by interceding, which is behavior more appropriate for a social worker or family member. The SVU team is there to advocate for justice for special victims, but sometimes they do have to walk away when the issue is outside the scope of a crime. Carisi took the correct approach when, at the end of the episode when Evie went back to sex videos, that he told Rollins it was not their choice. At least he knows when to draw the line.
Despite the uphill battle that Barba faced in trying to convince a jury that a porn star who does rape fantasy videos can be a victim of rape, he manages to get a guilty verdict. But that victory is short lived as the judge agrees to take seriously a motion to set aside the verdict. Of course, Barba is both shocked and appalled that the judge later agrees with the defense and sets aside the jury verdict of guilty and sets the rapist free. This does seem to be an puzzling decision from the judge, seeing that Barba presented plenty of evidence and the jury agreed with him. This case was nothing like the case presented in the Law & Order episode “Gunshow” from season 10 where EADA Jack McCoy wins a jury verdict which the judge deemed was for a constitutional issue which had no place in that court. In that case, the judge’s decision, while shocking to McCoy, actually made some sense, while in this case, I felt there were other non-legal issues which influenced the judge's decision, likely the judge’s own biases about those working in adult films.
A procedural question: Why are the interrogations not being video recorded, at least not until the confession? Are they concerned that their interrogation tactics would be questioned later?
A nice plus is seeing Peter Scanavino added to the title credits, which I hope means he will be around for at least the remainder of the season. He’s a great addition to the cast and I like the way Sonny Carisi thinks and how he operates.
Here is the recap:
Mariska Hargitay – Sergeant Olivia Benson
Ice-T – Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola
Kelli Giddish - Detective Amanda Rollins
Danny Pino - Detective Nick Amaro
Raúl Esparza - ADA Rafael Barba
Peter Scanavino - Detective Dominick Carisi, Jr.
Peter Gallagher - Deputy Chief William Dodds
Hannah Marks – Evie Barnes
Delaney Williams - Counselor John Buchanan
Kathleen Chalfant - Hudson President Rogers
Casey Thomas Brown - Matt Cooper
Max Ehrich - Daniel Pryor
Harry Zittel - Justin Adams
Richard T. Jones - Judge Oscar Briggs
Emily Donahoe – Lisa Barnes
John Leonard Thompson – Bob Barnes
Jonathan Strauss – Producer
Karl Jacob – Nate
Brian Russell – Process Server
Polly Adams – Jury Foreperson
Evie Barnes is on video, auditioning for a modeling job and hoping to earn money for school. She has just turned 18 that day, and the producer, off screen, asks her if she wants to earn 10 times the $300 modeling pay. He asks her to remove her clothes.
At a later date, two boys, Matt and Daniel, at Hudson University, are watching this video on a porn site, “18 With A Bang” as the modeling audition turns to a porn video. One of the men in the video slaps Evie, Matt and Daniel recognize Evie as a fellow student at Hudson. Matt suggests they invite her to a party that night.
Later, Evie is at the party and Matt and Daniel welcome her, then entice her into the bathroom for a beer. When she gets in there, they shut the door and begin to assault her, saying she is “18 with a bang.”
Sometime later, Fin and Rollins arrive at the dorm, being called there by Justin Adams, Evie’s RA, who said Evie was assaulted. He called on his own, he has been there 4 years and knows not to get campus security involved. He wrote down the names of the attackers, saying the guys are entitled d-bags. Justin knocks on the door and tells Evie he called the police and Rollins convinces her to let them in. Evie opens the door and states she did not ask him to call the police. Fin explains her RA was worried about her and did the right thing. She says she does not want to press charges, and Rollins states that is her choice. Rollins sits down to talk with Evie as Fin says he will call Carisi to take statements, and he leaves the room. Rollins asks Evie to tell her what happened. Evie says she wishes she stayed in her room and studied. She explains that he knocked on her door – Daniel Pryor, one of the cool guys who barely looked at her before last night. He came downstairs and invited her to a party. She should have known why. This spring, before she started college, she needed money for the semester’s tuition/ her dad was sick so she answered an ad for modeling work. It wasn’t modeling. Rollins assures her whatever she did before, it had nothing to do with her being assaulted. Evie thinks it does. They saw her; it was a video – it was porn. She begs Rollins not to tell her parents, and Rollins explains it is okay, they will take this one step at a time. Rollins asks if they hurt her or if she took a shower, and Evie says no, the bathroom is coed. Rollins states that is good thing, they will get her to the hospital. Evie agrees.
Meanwhile, Fin and Carisi speak with Daniel and Matt who said Evie did them both and that compared to the video she did, it was nothing. Their story is Evie went wild and wanted them both. She behaved like she did in the video and they seem surprised she called the police. Carisi calls it morning after regret. Daniel thinks the “18 With A Bang” video was more hardcore than they were.
Back at SVU, the detectives, In Benson’s office with Barba, view the video on the “18 With A Bang” web site. The site is about girls who just turn 18 and dream about making a porno. Evie was actually 18 in the video and she used her real first name. Benson shuts off the video and says whatever Evie did, had no bearing on what happened to her. Carisi argues that these guys say it does; because she wanted it in the porn movie, she wanted them. The others are silent and Rollins gives Benson a look and shakes her head. Carisi then says “Hello! A third of the traffic on the Internet is porn. That’s how most of these college guys learn about sex.” Benson holds out her hand and tells him to stop, it doesn’t matter. Rollins emphasizes that Evie said no, she wasn’t drunk, and she gave a detailed account of the assault and the exam in the ER was consistent with forcible penetration and the rape kit showed the presence of semen. Barba says so she made one first time pornographic movie – Rollins says it was in New Hampshire. Fin pipes in it is one of only a few places where you can still make porn without a condom. Barba says flatly, “Live free or die” then asks what else they know about Evie. Fin states her RA says she is a shy nice girl Benson adds she has no history with law enforcement and has made no prior allegations. Barba shakes his head and says it is still a “they said – she said”. Rollins counters maybe not; at the hospital, Evie told her after a minute that Daniel turned on his cell phone camera so she thinks the whole thing might have been recorded. Benson, raising her voice, asks Rollins, “You’re just telling me this now?” Rollins says she didn’t get a chance to speak with her today. Barba says he will get then a warrant for his phone and see if the video confirms her story. Benson tells Fin and Carisi to go back to those two and get her the video if it still exists. She tells Rollins to find out everything about Evie’s background , adding, “No surprises.” Rollins nods and walks out with the other detectives, After they leave, Benson slaps her hand on her desk and asks Barba what he thinks. Barba says she knows what he thinks; he would like this case a lot more has she not made a pornographic video. Rollins comes back into the room with Counselor Delaney, who seems gleeful. That’s because he is representing Matthew Cooper and Daniel Pryor, and thinks this will not go to trial. He hands them 2 flash drives, one with the video the boys made and another with many more porn videos made with Evie. Buchanan is thrilled, and tells them to brace themselves.
Later, the detectives watch the video of Evie, Matt and Daniel, which corroborates Evie’s story. Carisi shows another porn video Evie made which looks similar to the one with Matt and Daniel. Benson asks how many videos, Rollins explains it is like a baker’s dozen on Buchanan’s flash drive and after the first one – 18 with a bang – she uses a pseudonym, “Roxxxanne (3 Xs) DeMay.” Fin adds they are mostly violent, tag-team, rape fantasy scenarios. Carisi states that unless they believe she forgot about the other 12 films, she lied to them. Benson replies so she lied to them, telling them they are focusing on what Evie DIDN’T tell them, she’d like to focus on what how they missed this. Rollins gets defensive, saying she just started to vet her. Benson states the defense found it fast. Fin explains she used a different name on the other videos , plus they are behind pay walls. Rollins flippantly says maybe Buchanan was a subscriber. Carisi says it is all moot; if a judge allows these in, how will Barba explains the difference to the jury? Benson states on the boy’s video, she didn’t give consent, she wasn’t paid, she said no. Fin calmly says to Benson that she knows sex workers don’t get the benefit of the doubt. Benson testily says that is not how they go into this, and as she walks off, she says she doesn’t want to be blindsided again, asking if that is clear? Clapping is heard and Deputy Chief William Dodds walks in, the source of the clapping. He tells her it is a great speech, then holds up and issue of the New York Ledger with the headline “Head of the Class – From Straight A’s to XXX” and he says “Better headline.” The story has a photo of Evie with a subheading “Hudson U Porn Star Cries Rape”. Benson looks away and Dodds asks Benson into her office. He asks which one of those detectives is her number two, and Benson calls Fin to accompany her.
As they walk into Benson’s office, Dodds is looking at a photo of Noah and asks how is her family problem? Benson explains her son is fine and is home from the hospital. Dodds replies good. He comments she is still a new acting commanding officer and perhaps she didn’t appreciate that One PP and Comstat follow everything that she and her detectives do. Benson replies they are aware, and Fin adds it is not on the Sergeant, the girl misinformed them and this happens a lot with vics. They were just starting to vet her. Dodds sarcastically says he is used to sloppy police work, and Benson says it is on her, they just caught the case. Dodds questions if it is a case; what they may have here is a disturbed female student who willingly portrays violent sex acts on film. Benson firmly states it shouldn’t’ matter, she said she was raped and they need to investigate that. Dodds tells her not to preach, not with egg on her face. Benson’s mouth is agape as Dodds goes on to say another concern is protocol, asking why was Hudson kept out of the loop? President Roberts had to hear about this from a reporter. Fin dryly questions did she, saying it is not their job to notify Hudson. Benson says for the record, the student’s RA called SVU, because everybody knows that campus security pressures girls into dropping charges. She adds it seems that Hudson University is more concerned with their Cleary Act stats then they are with rape. Dodds comments “Ah. So it’s true. The word upstairs is you have an agenda. It colors your perception.” Benson replies, incredulous, “Excuse me?” Dodds states this is not the case to embarrass Hudson or the department with, and he emphasizes, “Pick your battles.” He walks out of the office and Benson shakes her head and gives a disgusted smile as Dodds slams the door.
On the Hudson University campus, Rollins talks with Evie who is surprised the other videos came into play as they were behind a pay wall. Rollins says they are still on the case but Evie has to tell them everything. Evie says she is not a slut and Rollins explains she is not saying that but the defense attorney will. Evie says they raped her, she didn’t want it and didn’t agree to be filmed, saying they thought they could do anything they wanted to her. Rollins stresses they can’t, but if she left anything out, tell her now. Evie states everything she did was legal; she signed contacts, for paid. It felt good, the guys looked right though her and have no idea what she is going on set with hot porn actors,
At Barba’s office on Friday, September 19, Benson and Rollins discuss the situation. Rollins explains people are trying to make Evie a poster child for exploited sex workers and there is a Twitter campaign and she is being pulled in different directions. Benson argues she is hardly the only girl who has turned to porn for tuition money. Barba explains he is not making a moral judgment, saying the video with the boys mimics move-for-move to the first film and he can’t sell this to a jury. Benson accuses him of backing off of this because of heat form the Mayor’s office, and Barba says she knows him better than that. Benson comments she thought she did. Rollins reminds then they are all on the same side, and asks Barba if he can use the rape shield and keep the porn videos out of the trial. Barba says it depends on the judge. If he files a motion on a section 5, but it is a catch all and Buchanan will fight it. Benson questions that Buchanan is still representing both boys, and when Barba indicates yes, she asks Rollins to find out if they are splitting the bill.
Later, back at SVU, Carisi is with Matt in the squad room while Daniel is in the interrogation room with Buchanan. Carisi works on Matt brain about the problems with sharing lawyers, and finds an excuse to walk him past the observation window to the interrogation room so Matt can see what Carisi wants him to think - that Daniel is cutting a deal. Carisi plants the seed of doubt and then tells Matt if anything seems off, don’t make Daniel’s lawyer let him take the fall.