SVU Episode #15- 12: Betrayal’s Climax

If Shakespeare wrote about sex crimes in New York … the result probably wouldn’t look like tonight’s SVU episode. This thug was no Romeo. Nevertheless, “Betrayal’s Climax” was a powerful episode, illuminating the tragic consequences of modern gang violence, misogyny, and misguided codes of honor.

Recap:

Olivia is promoted! During a beautiful ceremony, tears well up in the characters’ collective eyes (mine too). Congratulations, Sgt. Benson. After fifteen years of compassionate and dedicated service, you deserve this.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Avery lives in a posh brownstone on the Upper West Side and paints happy portraits of lovers holding hands. She’s madly in love with her Hispanic boyfriend, Manny, who lives in the projects and is trying to save money to buy his dead brother a tombstone. Avery’s patrician parents, of course, disapprove. This disapproval grows just a tad when a study-date at Avery’s house turns into a gang-rape, where three members of the notorious BX-9 gang hold a gun to Manny’s head while brutalizing Avery on her parents’ 600-threadcount Egyptian cotton sheets.

Turns out, Manny was a recent BX-9 recruit. Immediately before the assault, his friends called to say they were coming over to Avery’s house to “party,” and he knew what that meant. Raping Avery was the gang’s way of punishing Manny for botching the robbery of a pharmacy a few weeks back.

But guess who feels worse than Manny? Poor bruised Avery, who experienced orgasms during the rape, while Manny watched. She never came with Manny – and now apologizes to him, swearing that she loves him despite her body’s involuntary response. He’s cold and angry. If she loves him, he says, she should drop the charges against his friends. She’s so filled with self-loathing, Amanda can’t stop her from throwing herself off an eight-story building! (Really, Olivia? Your first official move as boss is to have your sex-crime detective doing suicide negotiation?) Luckily, firefighters catch Avery on the world’s sturdiest moonbounce.

Barba has a case stronger than, like, 90% of real sex-crime cases, but insists that he can’t win without Manny’s cooperation.

Nick uses his sexy Spanish language skills (Sí, sí, Detective Amaro!) to learn that Manny’s older brother was not killed by a rival gang, as everyone thought, but by BX-9 itself. And, in a cruel twist, the gang gave Manny the same gun that killed his brother, to use in the botched pharmacy robbery. Manny is so upset, he finally testifies against his gang. He is promptly murdered and his tongue is cut out.

Fortunately, Barba can still use Manny’s grand jury testimony, because the gang leader unwisely tells his girlfriend that he ordered the murder – while chatting on a recorded call from jail. Unfortunately, the leader also threatens Olivia. She threatens him right back, then declines any police protection. (Yikes. Between BX-9 and Louis, I am seriously nervous for Liv.)

Avery, meanwhile, moves on to painting exploded, bloody hearts, which were frankly an improvement on the hand-holding pictures. I guess you do have to suffer for your art.

Verdict: A-

What They Got Right:

Yes, orgasms can happen to rape victims. This is such an important point for the public to know. Arousal is involuntary response – and it doesn’t mean the victim consented. Prosecutors often have to call expert witnesses to teach the jury that arousal does not mean that the rape was enjoyable or that the victim was asking for it. Roughly 4-5% of rape victims describe experiencing orgasm, while more experience general arousal.

This reaction makes it even more difficult for the victim to recover emotionally.

As Popular Science noted:

Unsurprisingly, rape survivors who experience arousal and rape report confusion and shame thanks to this conflation of the physical response of arousal and its usual association with enjoyment. A survivor may ask, “Was this something I subconsciously wanted? Am I in some way guilty? If my body responded this way, does it mean I’m mentally disturbed?” The reality is that the body’s arousal response is no more an indication of guilt or mental illness than an elevated heart rate or adrenaline flood would be under the same circumstances.

Tonight’s episode was also an authentic look at how real-life gangs work. In my novel, Speak of the Devil, I explore the real-life gang MS-13, which seems to be the basis for the fictional BX-9. Tattoos and gang colors mark the members; initiation rituals include gang-rape and assault; and a community gun is often passed around. For members who want to leave the gang or testify against it, the punishment is death. Gang treatment of women is particularly horrible.

The way the squad arrested the gangbangers tonight was authentic. One was leaving his probation officer. Another was doing community-service garbage trash pickup. In real life, these thugs are often repeat offenders with no fixed home, and the best place to find them is when they’re doing their court-ordered activities.

Finally, most jails do record the phone calls of their inmates. The inmates are informed of this – in fact some are warned by a message before every single call. Nevertheless, the amount of incriminating statements captured on these phone calls is astounding. From my perspective as a prosecutor, the hardest thing was just keeping up with their sheer volume, especially if the conversation is in a foreign language and has to be translated.

What They Got Wrong:

Barba didn’t need Manny’s testimony at all. So what if he kinda sorta invited his friends over to “party”? A boyfriend cannot consent to his girlfriend getting raped.

And this was a strong strong case. The victim was credible, an excellent student with no criminal history, saying three strangers raped her. She had extensive injuries. Their semen was inside her. Her parents’ house was trashed. There was blood on her parents’ sheets. What more could Manny add? Let the defendants try to claim this was consensual. A jury would just hate them even more.

And leaving Manny to his own devices would have avoided all those illegal heart-to-hearts that Ice and Nick had with him. Manny’s lawyer had to be there. After a defendant is represented by counsel, the police may not talk to him again without his lawyer present. Especially if they’re trying to get him to cooperate in their investigation. That is a delicate and important subject that must be hammered out with an agreement, on paper. Maybe if he’d had his constitutionally-guaranteed lawyer on his side, Manny could have gotten a better deal, and not ended up with his throat slit.

What do you think, SVU fans? Was that a pregnancy kit in the preview for next week? Should Olivia have gotten protection, either in the bodyguard or family-planning sense? And is Amanda the worst suicide negotiator ever? Leave your comments!

Comments

  1. James Pollock says:

    I think you missed a step. With no testimony from Manny or Avery, the defense claim that the sex was consensual is unchallenged, and the theory that Avery only claimed rape when her parents were near probably succeeds.
    I mean, you’ll still get whichever one was pawning the jewelry for the larceny, but how do you prove the sex was nonconsesual without someone to testify on the subject? With no testimony from Avery, you need Manny as a witness, or you need to turn one of the participants.

    • There is still plenty of physical and circumstantial evidence of rape even without her live evidence, and there is the issue of whether the prosecutor will compel her evidence. There’s clearly a public interest in prosecuting the perpetrators of a violent gang rape and robbery at gun point. Also if there is proof that Avery and her family were attacked on the defendants orders she could become an unavailable witness and her statements are in.

      • James Pollock says:

        “there is the issue of whether the prosecutor will compel her evidence.”
        You’re assuming she’d testify truthfully if compelled. That’s not clear for most of the episode..

        “There is still plenty of physical and circumstantial evidence of rape”
        There’s pretty incontrovertible evidence of sex. But since the defense stipulates that there was sex, it doesn’t come in. When the defense is “there was sex, but it was consensual at the time.”, it’s a case of “he said, she said”… and if she ain’t talkin’ (or can’t be trusted to testify truthfully)… that’s not a very good case.

        “if there is proof that Avery and her family were attacked on the defendants orders she could become an unavailable witness and her statements are in.”
        Sounds easy, but very hard to achieve in practice. We don’t take away the right to confront witnesses lightly. To make it work in the story, you had to have a criminal so stupid he knowingly gets recorded admitting a murder.

        • @James

          I never made any such assumption. I never second guess how a prosecution witnesses will testify when they are on the stand. However in this case if she took the stand and retracted her evidence her prior statements could be put to her along with the attack on her and her parents. If the prosecutor impeaches her testimony he can even put it to her that she has been intimidated. What she actually says doesn’t matter.

          The physical evidence of sexual intercourse with three of the defendants is not an insurmountable problem for the defense. I’ve won a rape case in front of a jury when there were four defendants alleged to have gang raped the complainant. However they hadn’t beaten her. Avery was punched in the face. As a general rule most girls don’t like being slapped in the face during sex let alone punched in the face. Unless it can be established that she likes gang bangs and being abused that is compelling evidence of guilt. There is also a hell of a lot of circumstantial evidence including gang membership and the other crimes committed that night.

          I don’t disagree with you that there wasn’t enough evidence on the episode for Avery to be treated as an unavailable witness but they would only need to find evidence that those involved where members of the same gang. Prison phone records will give you a list of all the people the defendants have spoken to. If those phones were in the vicinity of the attack, you’ve got a suspect.

          I wouldn’t be confident that I could get an acquittal in those circumstances.

          • James Pollock says:

            “Avery was punched in the face.”

            According to whom? She’s not saying, Manny’s not talking, and there’s no medical evidence (remember, she doesn’t get to a doctor until after she falls off a building.)

            “There is also a hell of a lot of circumstantial evidence including gang membership and the other crimes committed that night.”
            Larceny is evidence of rape? I mean, I could see strong-arm robbery as evidence; those are both violent crimes. Plus you have the problem that the defense will stipulate that they were there. The prosecution has to overcome the defense argument that it was consensual right up until her parents found out about it, The lack of outcry hurts the prosecution a little, but if she refuses to testify, and they can’t turn one of the participants, I see enough reasonable doubt for acquittal.
            And, if she testifies falsely, everything falls apart and the charges are dismissed before the defense even puts on a case.

        • So assume you’re representing one defendant I’m representing another and we’re having a case conference, and to summarise your position you believe Avery won’t testify and we will have grounds for a directed verdict after the prosecution closes.

          My response would be, unless your client is planning to have Avery kidnapped or murdered, I can’t possibly know how she will testify but if she takes the stand. She may of course retract her statement but if she does the prosecutor will impeach her testimony and put her prior statements. I don’t think an argument for a directed verdict would be successful because of the corroborative forensic evidence.

          However. I’m professionally obliged to proceed on the basis that Avery will testify as per her statement: gang raped at gun point; her home was robbed at gun point; victim of aggravated battery at gun point; unlawfully detained at gun point and Manny attempted to rape her at gun point. Add to that they were all members of the same gang, I would have to advise my client that if she gives evidence, which is more likely than telling the court that she likes it in all three holes at the same time. On that basis, I have to advise my client that he is likely to be convicted and his best option would be to plead guilty and establish mitigation, regardless of how it impacts on your client.

          • James Pollock says:

            “you believe Avery won’t testify and we will have grounds for a directed verdict after the prosecution closes. ”

            More correctly, I believe that charges would be dismissed, and there would be no verdict, directed or otherwise, because there’d be no trial.

            You’re focusing on coordinating defenses, but that’s not going to happen if nobody is charged. There’s a scene with the defense counsel discussing it with the prosecutors. That guy’s logic works… if there’s no testimony by either A) the victim or B) cone of the co-conspirators. Throw in the complicating factor that it seems quite likely that the victim will perjure herself if compelled to testify. It’s hard enough to win rape trials when every thing lines up for the prosecution.

  2. I agree this was a very strong prosecution case. There was compelling evidence of three rapes and one attempted rape, robbery, unlawful imprisonment and aggravated assault at gun point. As well as evidence of conspiracy to commit rape, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit unlawful imprisonment, conspiracy to commit robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault. And all these crimes were carried out on behalf of BX-9. The defendants can’t argue that they are not part of the gang without the risk of introducing their prior gang related criminal convictions as rebuttal evidence.

    Also I’m not sure why they are offering Manny a deal — that’s daft — the other defendants will argue that he organised the gang rape and he has already as good as admitted conspiracy to commit rape. Also Manny attempted to rape Avery but was unable to do so because he was flaccid. Even though he was forced to attempt to rape Avery at gun point he had advance knowledge of the rapes and let his co-conspirators in.

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