The season 18 premiere of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” is an episode entitled “Terrorized.” On its face, it’s about husband-and-wife terrorists involved in a mass shooting event. To us, as writers and executive producers, however, the episode is really about an unlikely and unlikable rape victim ― Ana Kapic, the female member of the husband-wife terrorist team. In this regard, the title “Terrorized” has a double meaning: the husband and wife are terrorizing the city, while at the same time the husband is terrorizing — raping, beating and torturing — his wife.
We began thinking about writing this particular episode, sadly, when real-life stories of mass shootings began to dominate the news cycle. The tragedies in Orlando, San Bernardino and elsewhere were unfortunately becoming part of the national conversation and cultural zeitgeist. Were these men really Muslim terrorists, or just mentally ill individuals armed with automatic weapons looking for a cause to justify their rage and criminal behavior?
We began to talk about what happens when a rape victim just so happens to be the most hated person on the face of the earth? Would the NYPD still pursue the case and find justice for her?
But the trick to writing “Law & Order: SVU,” of course, is finding a way to tell a story through the prism of a rape investigation. So we began to speculate what would happen if, in the course of a mass shooting, our detectives discovered that one of the so-called “terrorists” was a woman who, herself, was also a victim of rape. More specifically, we began to talk about what happens when a rape victim just so happens to be the most hated person on the face of the earth? Would the NYPD still pursue the case and find justice for her?
Since our show revolves around Lieutenant Olivia Benson, the answer was easy: yes. You see, Benson isn’t an ordinary cop. She’s not swayed by public opinion or politics. She follows her heart, and has an uncanny ability to empathize with victims. When she hears Ana’s story firsthand – and sees the bruises and injuries inflicted on her body – she decides to pursue the case and fight vigorously on Ana’s behalf.
[Olivia Benson's] credo is simply this: you don’t get to pick your victims; you just have to find justice for them.
Throughout the episode, Benson is buffeted on all sides: by her boss, Chief Dodds, and by her co-worker and friend, Assistant District Attorney Barba. They know Ana’s rape allegations are credible, but they also know they need to convict the people responsible for this tragic event. To dig deeper into Ana’s claims of rape would potentially uncover evidence that might complicate or marginalize the murder trial and, quite possibly, exonerate her from the crime altogether. Benson understands the stark political and social ramifications here, but knows she must remain true to her beliefs – and to her profession. As an SVU Detective, her job is to investigate allegations of rape and punish the perpetrator.
Once Benson decides to move forward with this politically inconvenient and unpopular case, the show really kicks into high gear. Her bosses want to focus on convicting Ana for murder, while Benson wants to focus on proving that Ana was raped. If Benson is successful, Ana’s lawyer could use this to present a compelling defense in her murder trial — she was acting under undue influence and, therefore, not responsible for the crime. Needless to say, Benson, Chief Dodds and ADA Barba begin to clash. But Benson doesn’t waiver or acquiesce. Doing the “right thing” comes easily and naturally. Her credo is simply this: You don’t get to pick your victims; you just have to find justice for them.