L&O has, as a series, tended to rely pretty heavily on tropes of mental illness. There have been a few surprising moments, but mostly the stories are uncomplicated. Mental illness is scary, the only way to deal with it is forced medication or confinement. Good crazy people take their pills to make the people around them safe.

So…when the episode last night is the season finale, we ought to be ready for some sensationalism.

Season 7 Episode 07020
INFLUENCE – SEASON FINALE 10/9pm 5/16/06

ARE PSYCHIATRIC DRUGS NECESSARY? – In SVU’s season seven finale, former rock star Derek Lord (guest star Norman Reedus) goes on a national talk show and lectures about the abuse of psychiatric drugs. Meanwhile, an unstable young woman Jamie Hoskins (guest star Brittany Snow), who loses her virginity, goes off her prescribed medication, gets behind the wheel of a car, and mows down 10 people. As these events are played out in a highly charged way, the argument about prescribed “meds” is challenged. Mariska Hargitay, Chris Meloni, Tamara Tuni, B.D. Wong, Richard Belzer, Ice-T and Dianne Neal also star. TV-14

What they don’t tell you in that clip there is that to cap this all off, Ms. Lilly White Girl of Promise makes a false rape accusation.

She’s shown several times as a totally “reliable” witness, but when she talks about the rape, she’s in a unstable period, and goes crazy. First of all, as we all know, “reliable” witness is a hugely perspectival characteristic. See any of the recent commentary on the Duke case for details. Ever narrowing down this category of believable rape survivors down to the mythical Napoli hypothesis…this kind of portrayal serves the rape culture by maintaining the seeds of doubt that allow patriarchal types to stay in denial.

The other part that i really worry about here, and this just happens to be my interest, is the way that mental illness is seen as precluding agency, especially as it relates to sexual assault. Given that rape and abuse is not uncommon in these populations, this matters a great deal. The way it gets shown and seen is that a “real” mentally ill person will be completely helpless and totally disconnected from reality. Playing in to the “good” victim stereotypes, the catatonic cases are infantilized, and dealt with as if they aren’t there. They exist as a crime scene, not a person. “Bad” crazy people refuse to take their medications, and worse still, show some signs of function or agency while unmedicated. Showing the audacity to try to make their own choices in a difficult situation, they are shown as scary and victimized. Unreliable as witnesses, they still try to talk and claim that something is wrong, and since we find it hard to understand them, we start to attack them instead.

As the ADA crossed Jamie on the stand, she dismantled her entire humanity, calling her a slut who cried rape before baiting her into saying hateful things about her parents. We see her next in a private room in what’s supposed to be a ward but is clearly a regular hospital room…and she tearfully confesses to Benson and proclaims her eternal sorrow that she had ever not trusted her parents, who wanted her medicated.

Crazy people of the world, may I have your attention. If you refuse your medication, you cannot be raped. You may be a slut who asks for it, but if someone has non-consensual sex with you, it is not rape. It’s punishment because you don’t do what Mommy and Daddy say you should.

Law and Order SVU: Convicting the victim for your primetime viewing pleasure for seven seasons.

-sly

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