SVU Episode #14-20: Girl Dishonored

Tonight’s harrowing SVU about a college systematically mistreating its student/rape victims featured plot twists so shocking they hardly seemed plausible – except that they were drawn directly from allegations made in real-life cases.

Recap: A pretty young college freshman named Lindsey goes to a frat party, where a cocky blueblood named Travis and two of Travis’s frat brothers brutally gang rape her.

Lindsey goes to a hospital, but before a sex kit is done, the head of the college’s Campus Security advises her to take a shower. She washes away much of the evidence. And although she reports the rape to Olivia and Amanda, she also sends a topless Snapchat photo of herself to Travis the next day. (He asked for it, and she thought he might date her if she sent it.) After that photo ends up on the “Slut of the Week” website, Lindsey backs down and drops the charges. She doesn’t want to end up like Renee, another college girl who Travis raped, and who ended up in a psych ward.

Olivia visits Renee in the mental hospital. The girl is undergoing electric-shock treatments for major depression. When her shock session is over, Renee describes how Travis raped her at the frat house, and, adding insult to injury, how Campus Security didn’t believe her, the school counselor discouraged her from coming forward, and the college had her admitted to the mental hospital after she became suicidal.

The detectives do outreach at the school, and find ten more victims of Travis and his “Rape Factory” frat house. Lindsey, however, doesn’t want to come forward. She wants to pretend it never happened.

ADA Barba launches an investigation, putting many of the college officials in the grand jury hotseat. A third rape victim testifies that when she reported Travis’s rape of her, the head of Campus Security told her, “Sex is like a football game, sometimes when you watch your game tape, you can see your mistakes and do better next time.”

Meanwhile, the frat boys are getting worse. They post online some cell-phone videos where they laugh about how they raped the girl. ADA Barba describes how they chanted, “No means yes. Yes means anal.”

The authorities finally charge Travis and his buddies with rape, and the Dean as an accessory to rape. But it’s too late for Lindsey, who kills herself.

Verdict: A

What they got right:

This was an important episode. Shocking as they were, many of the story’s details came directly from allegations made in real-life college rape cases.

In one case, a woman alleged that when she reported her rape in 2007, she was told by an administrator: “Rape is like a football game. If you look back on the game, and you’re the quarterback and you’re in charge, is there anything that you would have done differently in that situation?”

Another college student claimed that she faced expulsion for “creating an intimidating environment” for her ex-boyfriend if she reported her alleged rape to the police.

In a complaint filed with the US Department of Education, one college’s former Dean of Students claimed that the school pressured her to under-report sexual assault cases and harassed her when she wouldn’t.

Another college rape victim claimed her report to campus police was ignored.  She was admitted to a psych ward after she became suicidal.

Horrific as the chant Barba mentioned was, it’s a real thing. In 2010, a group of male college students stood chanting: “No means yes, yes means anal.” You can see the video here.

And you’ve probably seen by now the dismaying video that Steubenville football players posted online after two of their friends sexually assaulted a passed-out drunk girl:

As parents, we must teach our sons to respect girls. As a society, we should demand that colleges treat victims of these most intimate crimes with the dignity and support they deserve — and that perpetrators are held accountable.

What they got wrong:

The Dean of Students wasn’t an accessory to rape. Yes, she could be guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice, for her testimony in the grand jury. But to give her a rape charge for failing to stop a rape culture on her campus, while satisfying on a dramatic level, was not legally supportable.

What do you think, SVU fans? What do colleges need to do to ensure that rape victims are treated with dignity and support? What should parents and teachers do to teach boys to respect women? How can we change the culture of rape on college campuses? Leave your comments.


  1. James Pollock says:

    Isn’t helping to cover up a crime accessory after the fact?

    Allison, can you address one of the other themes that surfaced in this episode… the extent to which other women are complicit in perpetuating the culture in which rape thrives. The rape that kicked off this episode didn’t start in the frat, it started in the sorority.

    • Good question. I’m sure that female attitudes play a part in “slut-shaming” — in the Steubenville case, it was another *girl* who threatened the victim. But generally, the larger problem is the attitudes of the boys and young men who perpetrate these attacks, cheer them on, and glorify the rapists.

      • James Pollock says:

        I was actually referring to the fairly direct abetting of the crimes. In the episode, the victim was delivered into the hands of the rapists by the sorority. Rape is one thing, but to achieve a “culture of rape” requires a great deal of assistance, and women do fill roles which lead to increases in rape and in rape attempts. See, for example, the episode that followed this one.

  2. I can’t remember how many reports there were about the three boys, but after so many times, the fact that she let the boys stay enrolled in school with little to no disciplinary action, I’d say the thought of her being just as guilty holds a little bit of weight. Again I’m not the lawyer so I’ll take your word for it on this. Though it could be argued that they were showing us WHAT the dean was being charged with, NOT that the charge would stick. Though I’d love to think a jury wouldn’t take pity on the dean for her involvement in this.

    Though I do remember that season 2′s “Consent” had a rape case that took place on campus. The victim was given a date rape drug by 3 of her sorority sisters with two suspected males. In the end, the jury was dead locked on the two guys; BUT it didn’t stop the dean and the disciplinary committee, from expelling the 2 of them to keep the schools image clean.

    I’d like to think that THAT kind of disciplinary action would’ve kept the dean out of hot water. But there are probably circumstantial things with THAT episode that’s different from this one.

    • For sure, Josh, a good college addresses these incidents immediately, transparently, and with clearly outlined procedures that both respect the victim’s dignity and uphold the suspect’s rights.

      • Frankly, I’m bothered by schools taking punitive action against the victims of accusations. These punitive actions can be severe and can compromise one’s ability to find a job for the rest of his life. There is a lack of due process when punishment comes before guilt is ascertained or only assumed.

        I’d much rather that schools get out of the quasi-law-enforcement business. If an allegation is made, it should immediately be referred to the police, not the campus police.

        Yes, this has its downsides, too… getting a police record isn’t fun; calling in the lawyers isn’t fun and it’s expensive. But one does get a chance to question the veracity of mere allegations.

        • James Pollock says:

          The schools are caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, failure to address a situation early can lead to problems. On the other hand, over-response can ALSO lead to problems. The problems are doubled in public schools, because of the due process requirement. (Private schools can expel you for whatever reason they like, as long as it’s in your enrollment contract.)

  3. I enjoyed this episode, the sort of thing SVU does best, particularly the debate around the detective squad table as they hashed out the merits of the case, the he said, she said aspect, and difficulties in prosecuting, etc. Also liked Barbo’s reasoning about isolating the one suspect who only participated once, figuring he was the only one who had remorse. Interesting investigative slant on his part.

    Also I’m not sure if I heard it correctly, but did Amanda say the girl who killed herself was “pink clouding” when referring to her being all happy and perky, as a way to deal with the trauma. If so, an interesting term. I’d never heard it before.

    Another great episode and another great analysis. Thanks

  4. This was a pretty good episode and very dense too. Most of them require a half a dozen red herrings to pad out the running time but this one had a lot that it was touching on. I think the show is much better when nobody is murdered. I usually skip the episodes when they find a body. That was one of the things that used to frustrate me when they had to have somebody die in order to manufacture plot twists rather than let the drama of the situation unfold.

  5. The show portrayed an actual rape situation. But there are also many horror stories about young men that were falsly accused and presumed guilty. The Duke Lacrosse players come to mind. Walter Russell Mead here: says “university regulations pushed by the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in 2011 for adjudicated cases of sexual harassment or sexual violence. The regulations allow universities to circumvent due process laws and other standards of the criminal justice system. Colleges need only show a “preponderance of evidence” (50.01 percent) that an assault occurred rather than the usual criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In other words, a student must, in the judgment of a campus tribunal, “more likely than not” have committed the assault. And normal procedures of discovery and evidence gathering also fall by the wayside. According to Stephen Henrick at HuffPo, “there are no rules of procedure that give the accused access to anything that could disprove the allegations against him or her.” Universities can even accept hearsay as evidence.”

    Campuses should neither accept every accusation as gospel nor dismiss accusations completely out of hand. There is a middle ground and it needs to be found and both men and women have rights that must be respected.

    • Toko Bali says:

      Here’s a weird suggestion: how ’bout universities call the police when an assault is reported. No hearings, not looking for 50,01, just call those whose actual job is investigating that stuff.

      • James Pollock says:

        Sure, but police investigations and prosecutions take TIME. Meanwhile, the victim/accuser may be living in the same building as the attacker/defendant… not something the school should ignore.

  6. Michael Aaron Blank says:

    With the fact that the failure to report was a driven by the need to keep the money flowing in and keep the alumni of this powerful frat happy, would that not have made her complicit in some way? With the amount of money involved in college funding and the fact that they could be guilty of obstruction, could RICO potentially apply to extend the rape charges to her?

  7. Toko Bali says:
  8. Carl N. Brown says:

    Well, now I am beginning to understand why colleges and universities are so resistant to allowing adults with state-issued weapons permits to carry on campus for self-defense.

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