Bondage, sadomasochism, and... book signings? Cross America's favorite TV crime drama with America's best-selling BDSM novel, and you've got one seriously kinky SVU episode. I was bound by every minute of it (so to speak).
Recap: Is there anyone in America who hasn't read Fifty Shades of Grey yet? It's a romantic novel, featuring whips, restraints, and assorted sadomasochistic hijinks. Even my 96-year-old grandmother has read it, so I'm going to assume we're all on the same page here.
Tonight's episode centered on a loosely veiled version of the book (Twenty-Five Acts), and opened with the author, a curvy blonde named Jocelyn, appearing on a TV show to promote her bestseller. She flirts with Cain, the charming TV host, and says that women really want to be dominated. After the show wraps, Jocelyn and Cain go for drinks. Jocelyn soon shimmies out of her silky green panties, slips them to Cain under the table, and coos, "What's your fantasy?"
They rush back to Cain's bachelor pad and the usual passion ensues. But, then Cain slaps her! And she likes it. He gets her on all fours on the bed and spanks her with a belt. "Ouch," she says. "That hurt!"
Uh oh. What's the safe word? Apparently, in their rush to get the party started, they failed to establish one. Cain now wraps the belt around Jocelyn's neck and pulls tight. Her eyes bug out in terror as he chokes and sodomizes her.
The next morning, Jocelyn insists she's fine -- but her publicist sees the belt-shaped bruise on her neck and calls the police. Jocelyn tells the police she wasn't raped, she wanted Cain to dominate her. Moreover, Chapter 5 of her book features a scene where the heroine is choked with a belt and sodomized -- and has eighteen orgasms as a result.
So... I'm thinking... no rape case. But, sensing that they haven't even reached their second commercial break, our good detectives press on.
(Incidentally, all of the detectives had read the novel. Even Munch admitted he'd read it out loud to his mother -- which was perhaps the most disturbing part of the whole episode.)
The detectives talk to Cain, who denies any wrongdoing. They talk to Jocelyn again at her book-signing, in a store called "Intimate Adversaries." She provides no additional information, but we're treated to a glimpse of the studded-leather chaps and polyurethane bras lining the joint. (My own book signings don't look anything like this -- but maybe I've just been throwing the wrong kind of signings.)
At Jocelyn's lavish book party that night, Cain corners her in an elevator. He hisses, "You talked to the cops? You know you wanted it last night. Just like you want it now." He hikes up her skirt and sodomizes her once again in the elevator (in another re-enactment of a scene from her book). She's frozen with panic.
A little legal advice. (Actually, this article does not give legal advice. It's purely for fun.) So then, a note. A man who believes a woman has consented to rough sex should immediately reconsider that belief after he is questioned by detectives about the matter. Police interrogation is a pretty clear sign that she really did mean "no," and the fella needs to stop having forcible sex with her.
Now Jocelyn is ready to press charges. And, the defense wants to admit her novel as evidence that she consented to Cain's rough sex. "Oh no," groans Olivia. "There goes the rape shield." In order to pre-empt evidence that Jocelyn had rough sex in the past, the detectives talk to all her old boyfriends -- and find her love life was pretty vanilla.
How, our detectives wonder, could Jocelyn have written such a kinky book without visiting at least a few swingers clubs?
Nick reads the academic writings of Jocelyn's frumpy female college professor and sees similarities between the prose. He discovers that the professor was actually the kinkster who wrote the racy novel. Jocelyn was just a pretty face to present it to the public.
The fact that Jocelyn is an actress and a liar doesn't help the prosecution. But, the wily D.A. pulls a reverse-O.J. move, asking Cain to demonstrate by holding the belt around the D.A.'s own neck. The D.A. then taunts Cain, who chokes the D.A. viciously. (Wow, give that prosecutor a Special Achievement Award! That is devotion to your job.) The jury convicts, and Cain is led away in handcuffs -- which, maybe, he liked.
What they got right: After Jocelyn froze during the elevator assault, the detectives discussed the phenomenon of "tonic immobility." This is a real thing that happens to sex-assault victims, where they simply cannot move their bodies during the assault. In times of panic, the human body has three basic responses: fight, flight or freeze. There are some evolutionary advantages to "playing dead" and waiting for the threat to pass. This response is involuntary, and sex-assault victims who experience it often have to be counseled that this reaction is not their "fault."
What they got wrong: As an author, here's my literary beef with this episode: A writer doesn't actually need to have done all the things her characters do in order to write the book. Just because Jocelyn hadn't been shagged while tied up in a "red room" doesn't mean she couldn't have dreamed it up. I don't suppose Edgar Allen Poe ever bricked anybody up into a wine cellar, either.
As a former prosecutor, my legal beef concerns the issues of consent and rape shield laws. The episode confused the two concepts. In this case, the jury would consider whether a reasonable man in the Cain's position would have believed that Jocelyn consented to what he did. To that end, Twenty-Five Acts was relevant. Cain had read it, he and Jocelyn promoted it on TV and their subsequent conversations revolved around its themes. Even though Joceyln hadn't actually written it, Cain reasonably thought she did. His understanding of what was okay with her was informed by the book, and it would have been admissible.
But that doesn't "open the rape-shield door." Rape shield laws prohibit evidence about a sex-assault victim's past sexual behavior and reputation. These are fairly modern rules, strictly interpreted, intended to protect victims from the sort of horrific invasion of privacy they often faced in the past. (And just because Jane said "yes" to Joe doesn't mean she said "yes" to Bob.) Nothing about Twenty-Five Acts opened the door to Jocelyn's past sex life.
But, perhaps the most implausible thing was Nick combing through the academic articles of the victim's former college professors. As a prosecutor, I often had to cajole cops merely to revisit the crime scene. I don't see Nick doing a dissertation on Fifty Shades, regardless of how great the sex scenes are.
So, what do you think, SVU fans? Is bondage the new black? Did Cain have a colorable consent defense? And, is there anything in the world that could convince you to read Fifty Shades out loud to your mother? Leave your comments!