Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Law & Order SVU “Behave” Recap & Review
This riveting episode of Law & Order SVU brings to light the backlog of untested rape kits in many cities across the country. (See an editorial on the subject: “Neal Baer and Mariska Hargitay: Ending the Backlog”.) Rape is traumatic and the process of collecting evidence as part of a rape kit can only add to that trauma. If that evidence sits collecting dust, not only does the victim risk not getting justice and closure, it could cause other cases to go unsolved, or for further attacks to take place. If the victim believes that the attacker will not be caught, all the victim has left is fear that it will happen again.
Jennifer Love Hewitt’s excellent performance conveyed her character’s fear and her subsequent withdrawal from living a normal life. It was hard not to feel her anguish as she goes through the rape kit process again, knowing that previous rape kits have gone nowhere. As the detectives themselves staked out Vicki’s place in order to try to catch her exiting her home, it only added insult to her injury; nothing like being stalked by an attacker AND the police. It was one of those cases where they almost had to treat the victim as they would a suspect; there was no other way they could help her and get her to open up about her attack.
It was very satisfying when Benson turns the tables on the rapist by having detectives constantly hound him and humiliate him in public with their accusations. Lucky for them he was their man, otherwise their taunts about him being a rapist could get them in legal trouble. I laughed when Benson told the suspect, “You’re MY bitch now,” since the word bitch is spoken by Benson, rather than being yelled at her (which is the norm).
The episode highlights that there is still a stigma attached to women who make accusations of rape. In Vicki’s case, her past reports of rape never fell on the ears of anyone who really listened to her story or cared enough to follow through. At first, even Stabler seems to dismiss her accusations, especially when he hears that the attacks have happened more than once. I suspect that most rape cases are not like this one that would require a detective to travel to three different cities to get evidence, but if rape kits were processed in a more timely fashion, it could help to expedite catching serial rapists that are operating locally before they get a chance to expand their range. It could also give the victims the sense that they have value and their case is important - especially if the rape kit helps catch the attacker.
There was only one thing that really bugged me about this episode. Benson was a little sanctimonious when talking to Rex Winters about the fact that New York had no backlog with rape kits. She failed to mention that one of the precincts completely lost the police report from one of the rapes, which caused a disconnect with the evidence they had collected at that time. Since it was that evidence that eventually nailed the rapist (for kidnapping), it seems to me that poor or careless record keeping by New York law enforcement contributed to the delay in solving Vicki’s crime. I know this is not the first time in the Law & Order universe – or the universe of other crime shows – where police files got lost and/or evidence misplaced. Maybe we need a Law & Order: File Room Unit to police that issue?
By the way, a web site has been established to bring attention to the issue of ending the backlog of rape kits, and it is scheduled to be active on September 29, 2010:endthebacklog.org .
Here is the recap: A woman is found, curled up and bleeding on a bus, and claims she has been raped – again. Detective Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) arrive at the hospital where they are told the victim, Julie (Jennifer Love Hewett), has been raped 4 times by the same man over the last 15 years. The doctor says she reeks like a wino. As Julie tries to leave, the detectives stop her, Benson telling her they need to do a rape kit. But Julie races off and Benson yells to her to not to take a shower in case she changes her mind.
Later, Benson and Stabler, along with Fin (Ice-T) visit the alley were Julie was picked up by the bus. There is blood, the same type as Julie’s. There is also broken glass and a broken bottle of booze, the same color of glass found in Julie’s scalp.
Back at the precinct, Benson says the doctors say that Julie wasn’t drunk. They learn that her name is not really Julie, it is Vicki Alicia Sayers, they got the ID from her thumbprint on the bottle. Her prints were in the system because she applied for a civil servants job. The address on her ID is bogus. Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) suggests they check tax records as she would have had to use her real name.
At the residence of Vicki Sayers, the detectives see her peering at them through the window. She refuses to come out so they decide to wait in their car. They later see someone making a delivery of groceries and office supplies, and the delivery woman knows Vicki’s door code. They decide to question that woman, and despite her reluctance to speak, she says she runs all Vicki's errands so she does not have to leave the house and pays her bills so she can’t be traced. Vicki has a job working in medical accounting and works from home. She only goes there once a month and last went there yesterday. Benson tries again to get Vicki to let her in, telling her she knows what is going on and can help her. No luck. The detectives continue to watch her from their car. Stabler has to go back to prep for court and Benson stays behind.
As Benson waits, she sees a car pull up and Vicki leave and gets into it. Benson flags down a cab and follows. Vicki gets out of her car and Benson follows and sees her meet with a man and they exchange something. When they see Benson they both run off and Benson chases Vicki. Vicki stops and She pulls a gun out of the bag, and Benson pulls her own gun and tells her to drop it. She does, and Benson arrests her for criminal possession of a weapon.
At the SVU precinct, Vicki is in interrogation. Vicki says she had to protect herself, and says Benson is stalking her just like he is. Benson admits she pushed her, but adds the man is escalating and may kill her the next time. Benson notes that Vicki hasn’t changed her clothes or showered, and convinces her to go to the hospital to do a rape kit. Vicki asks her to stay with her, and Benson says for as long as it takes.
At the hospital, while the rape kit is being done, Vicki says the first time he raped her was in 1995 when she was 16 working as a candy striper at a hospital. He raped her in a storeroom closet. She had never seen him before. He told her she’d better be a good girl and behave. He threatened to kill her parents if she told anyone and took her driver’s permit so he would know her name and where she lived. He raped her again in November of 1998, she was a sophomore at Hudson, and he said she had been a very bad girl. He broke into her apartment and tied her up and repeatedly raped her, saying she was his forever. She did call the police and they did a report but she did not want to go to the hospital. On her 20th birthday, she got a jack in the box with a card that said he is watching her and to behave herself. She was too scared to tell the police so she ran, going to Los Angeles. She got a job and met a guy and got engaged but her rapist followed her and raped her in July of 2000, one week before the wedding. He was waiting when she came home from her bridal shower and punched her and broke her nose. He took her engagement ring and California driver’s license. The neighbors heard her crying so they called police. They did a rape kit at the hospital. She cried all the time, and could not eat or sleep. It ruined her relationship with her fiancé Scot but she broke off the engagement and moved. She became a hermit and worked at home. One day she left the house and found her underwear gone and knew he was there. She came back to New York to live with her mother but when she died she moved elsewhere. When she came out of the subway last night he pulled her into the alley and raped her. He told her behave herself or she would die, and she started screaming and he hit her with the bottle.
Back at SVU, Benson brings Cragen up to speed and he says he will have a protective detail assigned and tells her to get the sketch out city wide and also to LA. A detective with the LAPD is getting information on the case out there. Fin tells them that the report of Vicki’s rape in 1998 got lost when the 3-5 moved to their new precinct. Someone form CSU enters and tells them they found fluids, not semen but found something that is like a lubricant called Heavenly Touch, a bottle which was found at the scene, no prints. It came from the Amsterdam Hotel.
Benson and Stabler take the sketch to the hotel and show it to a woman who works there who says it could be Mr. Harris (James Le Gros), who entertains clients there in their lounge. The detectives see Bill Harris there and speak with him and show him the sketch and he agrees to come down to the precinct. They have Harris in a lineup and Vicki identifies him as her attacker. Later, in interrogation, he denies everything. They show him the bottles of moisturizer from the Amsterdam but he continues to deny everything. He said he was at a trade show in Providence for surgical equipment 2 says ago. He has a copy of the hotel in his briefcase.
Fin later tells the detectives and Cragen and it seems that Harris was where he said he was. There is video of him checking in and out and security said he never left the room. Cragen tells them to check back with the Amsterdam and recheck. Vicki later says this is not a mistake, and is upset that they are going to let him go. When she sees him being released, she runs after him and begs Harris to forgive him and not to hurt her. They have to pull her away from him.
The next day, the detectives are still working the case. Benson says her gut says Vicki is right. Harris is a rep for Qualitas Surgical for 22 years, has many community awards, and never been married and has no kids. She wonders if he has a problem with women. Benson gets an email from the desk clerk in Providence, Benson told them to go back over every inch of his hotel room. The desk clerk said that Harris had taken apart the window in his first floor room as it didn’t open all the way. Benson also finds he rented a car just before he checked in and returned it the next morning. She thinks he drove down to rape Vicki. They wonder if he took and alternate route in order to miss the toll cameras. The alternate route matches very closely the mileage on his rental car. The detectives think that Harris thinks he is Teflon, and Cragen tells them to find something that will stick.
Benson goes back to Vicki’s home and tries to convince her to continue to living her life and to take the power away from Harris. Benson promises Harris will never touch her again. Vicki comes out and Benson tells her they are going to give him a taste of his own medicine.
Later, Benson is tailing Harris and asks him if he is behaving himself. Fin and Stabler also follow him and make comments. In one of Harris’s presentation to a group of people, Stabler asks Harris why he raped Vicki, identifying himself as NYPD. Fin is also passing out fliers with Harris’ picture. Vicki also makes an accusation at a cocktail party and calls out Harris as her rapist. Harris steps aside and tells Benson he will sue for harassment, and she says to go ahead, he will have to testify. Benson continues to pressure him, and when he tells her to get out of his face, she says, “You’re MY bitch, now.” Harris says that they are all alike, “every one of you” and they are screwing with the wrong guy. As they walk away, Vicki is concerned about what happened, but Benson said he just slipped.
Back at SVU, Benson said Vicki is not Harris' only victim, saying that his comment about all women being the same means that he probably did not stop at raping one. Stabler shows by matching his travel dates with attacks in the cities he visited, they found 10 rapes with the same MO. Based on the victims, they think he hunts them in his comfort zone – hospitals. He stalks them and rapes them multiple time and has been terrorizing women across the country for 20 years,
Benson confers with ADA Sherry West (Francie Swift) and presents her evidence. There isn’t enough evidence to arrest him for the current rape and the statute of limitation has run out on the 1998 rape. Benson says they have DNA from his other victims, and West thinks she may be able to get those rapes in as prior uncharged crimes, and tells Benson that she thinks Benson has some calls to make.
Benson gets on the phone and finds out Houston has a backlog of 4,000 rape kits. Birmingham has 2,000 untested kits, Phoenix 4,100, other cities confirm they have victims that match his MO. Benson decides to give them a hand in tracking down the rape kits. In Detroit, she sees there is a huge amount of kits, maybe up to 16,000, and only about1,200 have been tested. The precinct where the rapes occurred was boarded up and then it burned down last month. She heads to Chicago and finds one case with evidence missing and another contaminated with mold. She gets a call that LAPD has something for her.
Benson heads to LA and meets with Detective Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and he says that the lab is processing the DNA, they had thousands of kits in the freezer. New York has no rape kit backlog. Winters says they found Harris has a storage locked in the area and he’s had it since August 2000. He already has a warrant. At the locker, they break the lock and find a room full of large photos of the victims and a large television. Benson calls it his safe place. They find a book full of victim driver’s IDs with the dates of attack. He also has movies where he is stalking the victims, and Benson sees Vicki on one of them.
Later, Winters gets a call from the lab and tells Benson that the DNA from Vicki’s kit is degraded but the tech is willing to testify he can make enough of a match to Harris. Benson says she is going to collar Harris’s ass and send it to Winters on a silver platter. Winters says it is hers; California has a 10 year statute and the clock ran out on Vicki’s case 3 weeks ago, but Benson can still get him.
At a Supreme Court evidentiary hearing, ADA West shows the videos found. Vicki is on the stand and says it is her in the video and also IDs Harris as the man who raped her in LA and in NY. Defense attorney Trevor Langan (Peter Hermann) gets her to admit she did not see Harris this last time. He also mentions the DNA from California is not an exact match and could she have made a mistake. She is steadfast it is him. Judge Donnelly (Judith Light) says it is a travesty that the evidence sat untested for more than a decade, but, this happens every day all over the country. She says because the DNA is degraded and the chain of custody can’t be preserved, she rules the DNA is insufficient to use as corroboration to identify Harris. Benson is shocked, her mouth agape. Harris has a creepy smile on his face. Donnelly dismisses the case without prejudice and says they can represent if they get better evidence. Vicki is upset with Benson and tells her to stop making promises she can’t keep, and she runs off.
Back at SVU, Stabler tells Benson the FBI is taking over Harris’ case. Benson wonders how many of those cases would have been stopped if the kits had been tested, and it like telling the victims they don’t matter and telling the perps they can get away with it. She looks down at a roll of duct tape in an evidence bag and has a revelation, saying they may have had him all along.
She races to Vicki’s home, and asks Vicki about the 1998 attack and wonders how long he stayed. She says he was there all night and into the next day and that he tied her up with duct tape. He never took it off her and the police collected it as evidence. No one ever called her about it. As Benson tells Vicki her police report had gotten lost, they never knew it was there. We see Fin finding an evidence box and opening it to find the duct tape.
As Harris is meeting with a woman in a restaurant, Benson and Stabler arrest him for kidnapping in the first degree. As they lead him into SVU, they tell him they have the duct tape to prove it, and Vicki is also waiting there, staring him down. As they lock him in the holding cell, Stabler says there is no statute of limitations on kidnapping. Harris pleads to Vicki to tell them they are wrong and that he loves her. As they begin to close the cell door, Vicki races up and grabs the cell door, stopping it. She says, “Now I’ll always know where you are. Be a good boy.” As she slams the door, she says, “Behave yourself” and walks off as we fade to black.
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