If we’re being really honest here, Law & Order: SVU is nearly always painful to watch. Not because the show isn’t good, of course – it’s fantastic – but, rather, because the subject matter can truly be gut-wrenching. This week’s episode, a domestic abuse case with a twist, proved to be particularly hard to wrap your head around.
Perhaps it resonated with me in such a powerful way because the state I live in, South Carolina, ranks terribly where domestic violence is concerned: a woman is killed by a man in this state at a rate of one every 12 days. As recently as last year, the murder rate for women here was more than twice the national average.
Domestic abuse is a serious problem, and yet there are only 16 domestic violence shelters in the state – meaning hundreds of at-risk women and children are turned away because of lack of room and resources.
Nationwide, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. That’s more than 10 million women and men each year.
What does all of this have to do with this week’s episode of SVU? A lot.
The episode centers around an elite youth hockey league, shortly after a boy on the team named Jack misses a game-winning goal. After the game, he collapses walking to his car, where his mother discovers evidence that he has been sexually assaulted.
At first Jack acts as though he doesn’t remember what happened, so the detectives go to talk to the coach. He admits there are two boys on the team nicknamed the “Bash Brothers” who can get pretty rowdy.
When they are questioned, one of the boys cracks under the pressure and admits that they only held Jack down – it was another teammate named Kyle who sodomized Jack with a hockey stick.
Horrible, I know. This is where the part of me that is a mother of two children feels like someone just sucker punched me. How can we possibly protect our kids from all the evil in the world, especially when that evil is hiding in plain sight as friends and peers?
But, as it is wont to do, the plot thickens.
Upon speaking to Kyle and his family, it becomes abundantly clear that Kyle has been physically abused for a prolonged period of time by his father. Unfortunately, Kyle’s mother is doubling down on her “he’s a good man who loves his family” defense, so there’s little the detectives can do at this point.
When they go back to the hospital to speak with Jack, they learn he died from an infection shortly before their arrival. They then get a call that Kyle’s father just beat the hell out of Kyle’s older brother, Adam.
But Adam recorded the entire thing on his phone, giving the detectives the ammunition they need to bring the dad in. However, they still need Kyle to get his father to admit that he told Kyle to assault Jack. After Carisi opens up about a bully he didn’t confront in school who later killed someone, Kyle agrees.
When Kyle’s dad meets him at the rink, Kyle manages to get him to openly admit what he had encouraged his son to do. With that, the SVU team comes in and carts the monster off.
Like so many episodes in the SVU canon, this one is incredibly important because it calls attention to an issue that no one likes to talk about: domestic abuse.
It makes people uncomfortable. They tend to look the other way or, like Jack’s father fesses up to, feel like it’s none of their business. And while most people are already made uncomfortable by this epidemic thinking of it as an issue between men and women, the tragic reality is that children often suffer from the trickle-down or directly from domestic abuse themselves.
Did you know that men who, as children, witness their parents’ domestic violence are twice as likely to grow up to be abusers too?
Or that girls who suffer physical abuse at home are much more than twice as likely to become future victims of domestic abuse themselves?
It’s a problem we should be talking about and raising awareness about (not to mention violence and sexually-charged hazing among boys and young men). If someone has spoken up about Kyle’s dad prior to the incident in this episode, little Jack might still be alive.
And that’s just a fictionalized TV narrative. It isn’t too much of a stretch to think that there are a lot of real-life Jacks living in very real danger right now, just waiting for someone to be a voice for them.
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