In this Dominick Carisi (Peter Scanavino) centered episode, SVU examines the realities of investigating and prosecuting the complicated sex crimes that are reported on college campuses. The difficulties inherent in such cases become crystal clear throughout and are a great opportunity to see new ADA Peter Stone (Philip Winchester) working through a steep learning curve. It’s a rollercoaster of an episode, with 2 twists that leave the audience questioning everything.
Our case of the week is the alleged rape of Mia – Carisi’s niece – a rape that took place several months ago and Carisi is only now hearing about. After a hearing at Hudson University (seriously y’all – this place!?) Mia’s alleged rapist Ethan is suspended for a year for his crime. Ethan is furious and threatens Mia after the hearing, complaining that she’s ruined his life – which if he’s actually innocent would be true. If not then a year is way too small a price to pay. After learning of the threats to Mia, Carisi goes to LT Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Stone to ask them to investigate the assault. Both Benson and Carisi are shocked when Stone agrees – it’s a good opportunity for the team to learn that he’s on their side and willing to help – if only they’ll stay within the bounds of the law.
Through the investigation there are all kinds of unfortunate red flags – which is something that Stone has to learn is common amongst these types of cases. Thankfully he’s willing to listen to expert Benson when she tells him that college age assaults are rarely a clean narrative – they involve alcohol, dubious consent, victims self-blaming and feeling conflicted. But in this case we learn (in our first twist) that in this case, those red flags were there for a reason. Carisi discovers that his niece did lie – although she hadn’t wanted to sleep with Ethan, she’s a people pleaser – and had said yes after all. It was only when her roommate found out that she claimed it was rape. Carisi is extremely distraught and tells Mia she has to try to make things right, she’s ruined this boy’s life over a false allegation.
In our 2 twist of the night, Carisi gets a phone call from Mia after she’s been raped – this time for real. When she tried to apologize to Ethan he lost his mind and raped her, telling her after that now “she’d know what rape really feels like.” Carisi, in a dubious move, tells Mia to keep quiet about the first lie so that it doesn’t cast doubt on this second accusation. As is to be expected of course, this coverup doesn’t last long. In the courtroom when Carisi is questioned about the first rape accusation he comes clean, admitting that there had been no first rape. At this point I thought Stone was going to be furious – yet another member of the team lying to him, but fortunately he tells Carisi that he understands, all families have secrets after all (maybe a hint at what’s caused him to stay in New York?). Stone goes to work the next day, proving what an asset he’s going to be by tricking Ethan into admitting that he’d raped Mia in revenge for the first false accusation.
It was a good episode and one that very carefully dealt with an extremely complicated issue. Only 5% of sexual assault allegations are even investigated in the US right now – due to a variety of reasons, one of which is the complicated nature of consent. This is especially murky when you add alcohol to young, sexually immature adults. Thankfully it does seem that around the country there is a movement for affirmative consent, not just simply no.
*Benson talking to Stone about this case, explaining how prosecuting sex crimes is so very different from homicides, “We go to trial so the victim, the survivor can look her rapist in the eye and tell the world her truth. We go to trial so she can be heard.” Understanding that winning isn’t everything – that sometimes doing the right thing has to be enough – will be important in Stone’s development on this team
*Carisi on the stand, testifying that there was no rape in his niece’s first accusation – Peter Scanavino with this heartfelt performance knocked it out of the park
*Carisi at the end reassuring his niece that everything that happened wasn’t her fault – that no matter what she’d done, she did NOT deserve to be raped.
Least Favorite Moment – When Carisi went to speak with Stone after the courtroom debacle he found him in Barba’s favorite bar – in Barba’s favorite seat. This was absurd, no way two such different personalities would be drawn to exactly the same place. I understand that this may have been a nod for Barba fans, but it felt clumsy and unneeded.
Also, can we address the shirtless Philip Winchester scene in the end. I recognize he’s a crazy attractive man, but this was really inappropriate. There is no way that a new female ADA would have been written as changing and half naked when a colleague enters the room. No other character on the show has been treated as eye candy or as a romantic interest lead and I really hope that the writers respect Philip enough, and his fans enough to not go in that direction. Workplace harassment is a hot button topic as well right now, this felt untimely at best.
SVU airs next on March 14th at 9/8c