SVU Latest Episode Could Very Well Save Victims IRL

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below!

Mariska Hargitay through the years
Image: NBC

The Importance of the Father-Daughter Relationship

You’ve probably heard that having a strong male influence is important in a young boy’s life, but it’s equally important for daughters to have one as well. A positive father-daughter relationship can have a huge impact on a young girl’s life and even determine whether or not she develops into a strong, confident woman.

A father’s influence in his daughter’s life shapes her self-esteem, self-image, confidence and opinions of men.

“How Dad approaches life will serve as an example for his daughter to build off of in her own life, even if she chooses a different view of the world,” says Michael Austin, associate professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University and editor of Fatherhood – Philosophy for Everyone: The Dao of Daddy.

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“What matters in the father-daughter relationship is that Dad seeks to live a life of integrity and honesty, avoiding hypocrisy and admitting his own shortcomings so that she has a realistic and positive example of how to deal with the world. He should try to model a reflective approach to life’s big questions so that she can seek to do the same,” he adds.

Dads and daughters: From infant to toddler

We now live in a culture where Dad is an equal partner in care giving. From day one, dads are encouraged to be hands-on, changing diapers, giving baths, putting Baby to sleep and calming her cries. That presence and effort is the beginning of a very important relationship.

According to Austin, this quality time together is crucial at all stages of a girl’s life.

“Dads need to spend time with their infant daughter, taking care of her physical needs and supporting her Mom,” he explains. And once the little lady starts toddling around, “[i]t’s essential that Dad gets down on the floor – on her level – and plays with her,” Austin says.

Fathers and daughters: From tween to teen

It’s those pesky “hormonal” years that can often have dads shying away from their moody and sometimes standoffish daughter. When there’s a tween girl in the house, “[d]ads should focus on cultivating a trusting relationship so that their daughters feel secure talking with them about what’s going on in their lives,” Austin explains. “When necessary, dads should apologize and ask for forgiveness, as this both shows respect and love to our daughters and heals the hurts that are inevitable in daily life together.”

As a girl continues to grow and her teen years become fraught with complicated issues, dads should continue to work on building a trusting relationship, give affection and support her as she learns more about who she is and what kind of person she wants to become, Austin says.

“It’s imperative that, no matter what, dads avoid the temptation to pull away or withdraw during this sometimes challenging stage of growing up.”

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A father’s influence on a daughter’s self-image

A dad’s involvement in his daughter’s life is a crucial ingredient in the development of a young woman’s self-esteem. Austin identifies positive elements of “common sense” parenting for dads so they can help support their daughter’s self-image and curb any possibility of low self-esteem: Verbal encouragement, being consistently present in her life, being alert and sensitive to her feelings, taking time to listen to her thoughts and taking an active interest in her hobbies.

“It’s important to actually do these things, which can sometimes be quite challenging,” Austin adds. Direct involvement and encouragement by her father will help diminish a girl’s insecurity and increase her confidence in her own abilities.

How dads influence their daughter’s relationships

The type of men that women date and have long-term relationships with are also directly related to the kind of relationship a girl has with her father. Obviously, the hope is that the father figure in a girl’s life will aim to skew that young lady’s opinions of men in a positive way.

“He must, first and foremost, treat his daughter with respect and love. Whether or not he is married to or still together with his daughter’s mom, showing respect to her mother is essential as well,” explains Austin. “He must also value women as human beings, and not as persons to be used. Daughters will see what their dads believe about women by how they value and respect women, or by how they fail to do so.”

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Originally published October 2012. Updated February 2017.