“Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit” starring Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson always focuses on important themes on sexually based crimes. Yet, the socially aware team of actors and writers, now in their twelfth season, failed to look at the problems of rape and alcohol abuse on college campuses. That is, until now. A special episode called “Gray” aired on November 17th on NBC at 9pm, brought to light the controversial and serious dangers of sexual abuse on college campuses.
Executive producer Neal Baer has had extensive experience in the medical field as well as in television. He was once the executive producer of “ER,” but more importantly he graduated from Harvard Medical School. He spoke with the Foghorn about addressing the issue of rape and substance abuse on college campuses and the importance of promoting this episode. “We are trying to touch on subjects that are relative now,” Baer said. “This time we wanted to focus on the college experience where there are high rates of rapes and substance abuse. We just fictionalized what is becoming a day-to-day existence for college students.”
He went on to explain that 50 percent of all victims of sexual assault in college were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Furthermore, the rate of women who are sexual assaulted is four times as much as women who are not in college. In fact, one out of every four women in college will have been sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. To me, these are frightening statistics and numbers that could be fixed with just a little more awareness, especially for women who tend to party heavily. However, both sexes need to be warned about how much pain sexual abuse can cause and how not to become a victim. Although men and women can both be victims, the number of women who wind up in these situations is certainly stifling.
I believe that shows like the one “Law and Order” recently aired can open communication for those afraid to speak out about their hardships with sexual abuse. Baer talked about what he has noticed: “I’ve had victims of sexual assault come up to me with tears in their eyes thanking me. I feel they are telling me we have given them a voice. The best part of what we do is education, a sense of empowerment, and it’s a wake-up call. Every kid should get educated about these issues. I think its nothing but good.”
Even Baer admits to drinking alcohol in college as a means of blowing off steam. He calls this his research years, and from them he can see the horrible downsides to drinking and how easy it can be for people to lose control.
Actor Christopher Meloni, Detective Elliot Stabler on the show, also shared his thoughts on the special episode aimed at college students. His background includes “Oz” and
“NYPD Blue” as well as films such as “Nights in Rodanthe,” “Runaway Bride,” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” He said, “Fifty-three million people watch this show, mostly young kids. The show speaks to young people and this is their time to see it. We write a lot of episodes that relate to college students.” When Meloni was asked why “Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit” did not do an episode on college sexual assault before, he replied: “I think its interesting that we waited this long to do this episode. The issue has not been talked about a lot until fairly recently. Now it is getting a lot of attention. A lot of times these things slip through the cracks because the victims don’t have a voice.”
Although that is the truth of it, I believe that in the twelve years this show has existed it should have presented an episode that deals with these issues long before now. Honestly, college is a time where students are experimenting with all kinds of substances.
Therefore, alcohol abuse and consequently, bad decisions occur all the time.
Furthermore, there are a lot of opportunities at parties where alcohol and drugs are most likely to be found. Episodes such as “Gray” help get the word out to those still in the dark about this major concern.
But sometimes the quiet surrounding this issue is due to individual institutions wanting to keep their business out of the papers. Meloni understands why the high amount of rapes on college campuses has remained a secret. He said, “The schools take these cases through their disciplinary systems, rather than outside police sources. It starts with students and associations coming together to speak out. We get many emails a day from victims saying that they have the courage to carry on.”
When asked why these students would stay silent about such cruelty, Meloni responded with, “Peer pressure. Alcohol abuse makes things even more complicated.” What he suggests and what ultimately this episode shows is that, “It’s important for people to get help right away. You guys have to take the reins and change the norms.”
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