Tonight’s SVU episode was a barely-fictionalized rendition of the tumultuous Rihanna/Chris Brown saga, except, in the end, the dewy-eyed songstress doesn’t top the music charts but is killed by her lover. The ending was dramatic – but realistic. Bravo to SVU for nailing the real challenges of prosecuting domestic-violence cases.
A beautiful young singer named Micha records a duet with her baby-faced beau, Caleb. The beat is barely faded when Caleb starts flirting with another woman – and then punching Micha when she confronts him.
The next day, Micha’s face is covered in bruises, but she’s reluctant to testify against Caleb. She loves him. But Olivia flashes her patented empathetic smile, and Micha eventually admits that Caleb hit and strangled her.
A press frenzy ensues (with Perez Hilton playing himself). The two stars tweet up a storm, and their reps issue competing press releases.
Caleb goes on a talk show, the picture of contrition. “I love you, baby” he murmurs to the camera and thus to Micha, “That I hurt you, it tears me, up. I’m so so sorry. You’re all that matters. This ring is for you.” He displays a rock the size of a tennis ball.
Micha puts the ring on her finger and refuses to testify against him.
He soon tweets out a picture of himself in her bed. The cops promptly arrest him for violating the court’s stay-away order. But Micha says she invited him over – and he’s soon out of jail again.
Now comes the big party for the release of their duet. Caleb flies into another jealous rage, shoots Micha, and kills her beloved producer, Brass.
And she still won’t testify against him. No one at the club will either. Caleb comes into the police station with his lawyer and denies even being at the club. It looks like he’ll get away with murder.
Olivia reminds Micha how much she loved Brass – and Micha finally agrees to testify. But Caleb sweet-talks her overnight. The next day, she goes into the Grand Jury and recants. Although Barba threatens to charge her with perjury, she claims Caleb did nothing.
“Now what do we do?” Nick asks the team.
“We wait,” Munch says.
“For the inevitable,” Olivia adds.
Micha soon flies down to Bermuda for a romantic reunion with Caleb. It’s short-lived. When she questions him about a text from another woman, he is furious. He beats her … to death.
There were some strong Twitter reactions to tonight’s episode. Comedian Travon Free (@Travon) wrote, “This #SVU is literally an hour long ‘Rihanna you’re stupid’ PSA.” @MsEresDes2U tweeted, “On a scale of 1 to Chris brown…how mad are u about this #svu episode??”
I thought it was an excellent exploration of the real challenges of prosecuting domestic violence cases. As a prosecutor of the Sex Offense and Domestic Violence unit in D.C., I saw similar stories play out countless times (minus the platinum record sales).
And if you burnish your career by singing catchy songs about domestic violence – see “Love the Way You Lie” – you take the chance that your personal life will become that PSA.
What they got right:
The dramatic ending was based on grimly real statistics. Three women die every day as a result of domestic violence. 80% of DV victims are back with their abusers by the time of trial and want the charges dropped. In 70 to 80% of intimate partner homicides, the man physically abused the woman before the murder.
Tonight’s episode captured a nightmare familiar to every DV prosecutor: losing a case, and setting free an abuser who goes on to kill his victim. This was something that haunted me every day and kept me working late every night. (I thought about this issue so often, it became my first book, Law of Attraction, a novel about a DV homicide. )
Tonight’s episode also showed how DV cases are washed in the celebrity spin cycle. When Brown beat Rihanna before the 2009 Grammy’s, leaving bruises on her face and bite marks on her arms, the pictures soon leaked to TMZ.
Brown went on a strange apology tour, alternately contrite and angry, as if his real self kept trying to peer out from behind his publicist’s talking points.
Many of Chrianna’s real-life plot points have unfolded on Twitter. People realized they were back together when they both tweeted out different pictures of the same comforter.
And Perez Hilton continues his coverage of their every public move:
But many of this episode’s best moments came from the challenges of prosecuting everyday DV case, not the celebrity ones.
It aptly demonstrated the DV cycle of violence, which goes something like this: Anger -> Beating -> Repentance -> Forgiveness -> Bliss -> Anger -> Beating. Victims are most willing to testify when they’re post-Beating, but don’t want to ruin the Bliss.
Nick took pictures of Caleb’s hands, noting his bruised knuckles. Well done, Nick. Police officers know that DV victims are likely to recant, and try to build the strongest possible case assuming they won’t have that testimony.
Strangling cases are particularly worrisome, because strangling can easily become lethal. This is a particularly alarming sign in an abusive relationship.
The protection-order issue was authentic. Sometimes an abuser goes back to the victim’s house, despite a stay-away order, because the victim invites him. Her invitation doesn’t remove the order – that belongs to the court, not her. Technically, the same penalties apply. That said, many judges look more sympathetically on a violator who was welcomed into the home.
DV incidents start in many ways – but the most common I saw was jealousy or suspicion that one partner is seeing someone else.
Caleb’s “I love you, baby, please forgive me” speech on the talk show was absolutely pitch-perfect. I’ve heard this call (often captured on jail calls, rather than Oprah’s couch) so many times. This is exactly what it sounds like.
Barba said, “There’s only so much you can do until the victim is ready.” So true, Barba. Still, prosecutors often try, like Barba did, to make the case despite the victim’s best efforts.
Finally, I nodded at the club shooting where no one would admit they saw the murder. We had a similar real case in DC, where a guy was repeatedly stabbed on a dance floor – surrounded by people who didn’t see thing.
What they got wrong:
No way – no way! – does Caleb’s lawyer let him talk to the police after the shooting. No defense attorney with an ounce of self-preservation would allow his obviously guilty and unpredictable client anywhere near an interrogation room. A lobster is just as likely to throw itself into a boiling pot.
What do you think, SVU fans? Did Chris Brown and Rihanna watch the episode? Will it affect their relationship? And were Olivia and Barba walking intriguingly close to each other as they left court? Leave your comments!