It is an immutable law of SVU that if a wealthy young woman has a significant role before the second commercial break, she will either turn out to be a rape victim or a mastermind behind the assault – even if it was gang rape by a bunch of crazed strangers in a crowded nightclub. Tonight’s episode stayed true to this silly form.
Two pretty young women get ready for a night on the town. Bubbly Brit persuades shy Gabby to wear a strapless yellow top. “Jake will love it!” Brit gushes. Gabby, Brit and preppy Jake go to a nightclub and have fun watching the band, until fireworks go off behind the stage. (Um, didn’t we learn that was a bad idea after the Great White tragedy? Are fireworks even allowed at indoor concerts any more? The lawyer in me starting calculating the nightclub’s tort liability, and there were a lot of zeros.)
Anyway, in the midst of the fireworks, someone pulls down Gabby’s top, exposing her breasts. Seeing this, a bunch of scraggly male clubgoers descend on Gabby, push her to the ground, and violently gang rape her.
At first, our detectives think the head of club security, Frank, was the ringleader. But Frank served a couple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is suffering from PTSD. Confused, he admits to the rape, then realizes he didn’t do it, and eventually helps ID the real bad guys.
Turns out, there are two sets of bad guys. First set: the scraggly clubbers who actually raped Gabby. Second set: three of Gabby’s rich prep-school friends, who pulled off her top in the first place. See, Gabby’s ex-boyfriend, Alec, wanted to get back at her for dumping him. So his BFF Brit befriended Gabby, got her to wear the flimsy top, brought her to the club, and signaled for the de-shirting to begin. Jake was in on it too. The trio paid a blue-collar kid to “top-shark” Gabby, that is, pull her top off in order to take a topless photo of her.
Who should the detectives focus on: the shirt-snatchers or the gang rapists? The shirt-snatchers, of course! Another immutable law of SVU requires immediate prosecution of any character who is questioned while: (a) carrying oars at his rowing club, (b) wearing tennis whites, or (c) shopping at pricey boutiques. Since our preppy trio did all three, they are immediately indicted.
ADA Barba apparently gets high off-screen, then argues that because the prep-school kids conspired to top-shark Gabby, they should have foreseen the resulting gang rape, and can be held legally responsible for it. Thereupon follow some extremely silly trial scenes (more on that below). Frank realizes halfway through his testimony that someone videotaped the whole assault. Our detectives track down the video, which shows the rich kids thumbs-upping each other before initiating the top-sharking.
Alec, Brit, and Jake all plead guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated sexual assault and are sent to Rikers.
What they got right:
The Woodstock music festival in 1999 ended with allegations that several women had been raped while in the mosh pit at the event. The descriptions that came from that event – of chaos within densely-packed crowds, mob mentality, and sexual violence – were captured in tonight’s episode.
What they got wrong:
Barba’s a great character, but he was totally off his game tonight.
First, he said that the DNA on Gabby’s body after the attack would “only show proximity,” not an assault. But there were bite marks, and forensic testing would be able to tell if the DNA was from saliva. If you’ve got someone’s saliva in a victim’s bite mark, that’s not just proximity – that’s an assault.
Worse, was Barba’s theory that he could convict the top-sharking kids for rape. Sure, the kids were horrible. But there was no legal basis to hold them responsible for the gang rape committed by strangers. The prepsters conspired to take a girl’s shirt off and photograph her. Barba implied that because they’d formed a shirt-stealing conspiracy, they would be guilty of anything reasonably foreseeable from a situation where a woman is missing her shirt. But that’s not the case if the resulting crimes were committed by someone outside of their original conspiracy. Maybe Barba meant the kids had aiding and abetting liability. But to be guilty of a crime under a theory of aiding and abetting, the defendant generally must know of the direct perpetrator’s criminal purpose, must intend to aid and abet the perpetrator, and must do or say something that in fact aids and abets the crime. Here, the trust-fund kids didn’t even know the scraggly gang rapists; they certainly didn’t know about their criminal purpose. This conviction wouldn’t stand in real life.
It was silly that there was one defense attorney for all three rich kids. That would never happen in real life; the attorney would have a total conflict of interest. The kids’ best bet would be to turn on each other. They’d each need their own attorney to advise them about that option. Even if the three wanted to share one attorney, no judge in her right mind would allow it — this just sets up the perfect situation for the kids to appeal.
And you already know how unlikely it was that Barba would learn about the incriminating video in the last five minutes of trial. It was dramatic! But moments like that only happen on Perry Mason and SVU.
I’ve got more, but I’ve run out of words. So leave your comments and hit the issues I don’t have room for!