A Very Special Victim

I stopped watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit a long time ago, after Twisty described it as Law & Order: Mutilated Women's Unit and just couldn't get that out of my head. Earlier this week, I happened to see the synopsis of the episodes broadcast Wednesday evening - it involved a woman with a disability getting attacked - and decided to give it a whirl. Y’know, to see how they dealt with it.

Yes, I know. I am a glutton for punishment. Hang onto something, there’s a rant coming…

The episode starts on a parallel transit bus, with a trainee driving and we see that the trainee is an amputee, one arm ending in some sort of hook prosthetic. Because apparently the creators of the show have somehow missed the developments in the field that allow for close-to-natural looking prosthetics.

Behind our trainee is the regular driver/trainer, who is spouting words of encouragement, including "just relax, you're a natural!" and is it just me or would you also question whether something quite so patronizing would be said to someone who had all four limbs intact?

They stop to pick up a woman, who is not, as she normally is, waiting on the sidewalk for the bus, so the trainee and the driver go up to her apartment to check on things. The apartment is beautifully decorated and shows no sign of anyone living in a wheelchair in it. Furniture is in the middle of the room, there's a nice arrangement with two couches facing each other and a coffee table between them and it's obvious that the makers of the show have not consulted the tiniest website about barrier-free design, nor have they even thought about what a wheelchair user’s apartment looks like (hint: furniture is likely placed up against the walls, in order to create space for the chair to move around and have access to aforementioned furniture, like a bookshelf or television). We see a beautiful woman in a white silk bathrobe sprawled on the floor, moaning.

In the next scene, detectives Benson and Stabler are walking along a hospital corridor with the doctor, who explains that the patient is "confined to wheelchair" and in the very next sentence, mentioned something about "chairbound patients" - I don't remember the rest, as I wasn't taping from the beginning (but hint: we are not confined or bound - the chair liberates; if we didn't have it, we would be confined to bed. Also? It's called person with a disability - we are actual people, not just vacant cripples). The doctor then mentions that the woman came in "without her diaper," so he did a rape kit while he was examining her and that they have to investigate. Benson and Stabler reply that they can't start an investigation without the woman requesting it – would this mean the doctor raped her a second time when doing a rape kit without asking her consent? - but the doctor insists, because she has severe MS, is a quadriplegic. B&S asks if she cannot speak, doctor agrees and at this point, I believe my blood pressure reached stratospheric levels. Shall we count the whys?

Just in that one scene, the character of the doctor twice uses completely inappropriate language about a person with a disability. He then goes on to explain that the woman wears a diaper - because all people with disabilities wear diapers, dontcha know - and simply because she has become a quadriplegic, this naturally means that she is incapable of speech or communicating her wishes in other ways. Apparently the makers of the show also remain completely oblivious to the existence of augmentative communication devices.

And all this was in the first two minutes.

About a week ago, Trevor sent me an excellent article about the media's approach to disability, including inappropriate language (with helpful suggestions for respectful, appropriate terms to use) and the neverending disability version of the Madonna-Whore dichotomy, namely that of Victim-Hero. And this episode of SVU is clearly about a Very Special special victim, short bus and all.

What bugs me is not creating a storyline about a woman with a disability being sexually assaulted, because it happens (to almost half of us), particularly from caregivers and quite frankly, I welcome a look at this, because it's not something regular folks like to think about (or are even aware of). However, what pushed me into a rage bordering on an apoplectic fit was the sheer laziness of the creators of this episode. No thought or research put into what a disability means, what adaptive equipment may be available, what the apartment of a woman who uses a wheelchair might look like and then, as the cherry on top, let's take away her voice, too, literally and figuratively, shall we? Because in addition to making her incapable of speech, we are also going to remove all personal power from this woman, denying her the simple right to communicate if she wants an investigation, because her physical disability naturally leaves her mentally incompetent, as well!

Excuse me. I have to go hit something.

(I watched the rest. It got marginally better)

David has finally been bitten by the blogging bug (oooh, the alliteration!) and has started The Longer Web. The mandate: scour the net for long, leisurely essays about life, the universe and everything. Check it out – it’s intriguing, teaches you stuff you never knew you wanted to know and is a lot of fun, too.


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