After a plot twist last week that exposed a would-be rape victim as a criminal, Law & Order: SVU took a more conventional tack on the rape issue in a new, rather weighty, episode. This time, a college freshman named Lindsey was gang-raped by three male students through a sorority initiation gone bad. She immediately reports the incident, but later retracts when it appears she will find little support from school officials (the sorority at which it happened has a long, respectable tradition, after all) and after a public shaming campaign among students that labeled her “whore of the week.”
(Willing suspension of disbelief requires we pretend there could ever be a “whore of the week” campaign – or any widespread effort to attach shame to a sexual act with anyone or anything – on today’s campuses.)
As the Special Victims Unit investigates, they find that this was not an isolated case. As they seek out additional testimonies from other girls, they find a culture of cover-up in the college leadership, despite the frat house in question being labeled a “rape-factory” by students. After refusing to publicly testify in the investigation, Lindsey commits suicide, and her death breaks the case wide open.
True to the “Law & Order” franchise, the plot was “ripped from today’s headlines.” Similar stories have been in the news the past several years Just last month, The Washington Post posted a blog post with a headline that read: “Wishing rape on campus away won’t make it so .” The Post article links back to a 2010 story in which a 19-year-old freshman woman was allegedly gang-raped  and committed suicide before the year’s end.
It’s beyond the show’s scope to question the broader implications of the college rape problem and what it says about America’s youth culture as a whole. However, it ought to give viewers pause. Both of those articles cite a statistic that one in four college women will be the victims of rape or attempted rape before they finish college. That goes deeper than simply educating women to be careful about what situations they get themselves into after a few drinks, or admonishing boys that “no means no.” At a time when family values are a punch line, pornography saturates the Web, and the hookup culture is the norm on college campuses, we should take a hard look at where society is heading.