Religious controversy storylines are risky.
They tend to be one-sided, may portray either the religious belief or the opposition to it inaccurately, and usually have a clear message that can leave viewers feeling preached at.
Law & Order: SVU Season 18 Episode 19 fell into this trap a little bit, but the idea of "corrective rape" is a real thing and the subject was mainly handled sensitively.
Even more importantly, this was an entertaining hour of television, something which is not easy to pull off when also trying to create a positive social message about gay people and religion.
"Conversion" asked the question of whether rape is something that can be objectively determined or whether it is based on the alleged victim's belief that he or she was sexually assaulted.
This is actually something that goes well beyond the religious belief argument presented in this story. There are many circumstances where a victim may not believe he or she has been assaulted, such as when one person is too drunk or high to consent or is reluctant to believe that someone they care about did something wrong to them.
If the defense had won in this case, it would have set the precedent that not only is religious belief a defense to rape but that any rape where the victim is not aware of what actually happened to him or her doesn't count.
Lucas: She was assaulted. Is that what she said happened?
Carisi: No. That is what happened. She was raped.
Lucas: No it wasn't. I would never rape anyone. It was curative intercourse. I was saving her soul.
Olivia and Sonny made it clear that rape is rape and that any forced intercourse is legally and morally wrong. I wouldn't expect anything less of them, but it's an important stand to take when there is so much confusion about what things like consent and rape actually mean.
In this case, of course, the rape was sanctioned by both the defendant and the victim's religion. This was pretty scary, especially because I've heard of the idea of corrective rape before. This does actually happen sometimes and may go unreported because the victim believes that he or she deserved it for "sinning."
Anne: My mother thinks I'm napping. She's afraid I'll go to see Lydia.
Olivia: Do you want to see Lydia?
Anne: Lydia's a good person, even if she's... um...
Olivia: Homosexual? You're a good person too.
Anne: Man's law and God's law say two different things and I don't know which to believe.
Olivia: Maybe you don't need to know. You just need to tell the truth.
Anne: About my feelings for Lydia or what Lucas did to me?
Olivia: You know, Anne, I believe in God too. I don't know what He has planned for you or me or anybody. But I do know one thing. What Lucas did to you was wrong.
I was glad that Olivia was able to build enough rapport with Anne to help her understand what had happened to her.
I liked the fact that both Olivia and Sonny are religious people who don't believe in this type of Christianity. It provided a nice counterpoint to Father Gary's church and stopped the show from accidentally indicting all religious people in its zeal to expose this kind of fundamentalism for what it is.
The story was strong, yet I thought there were a few problems with it.
Long-time viewers may remember that Fin has a gay son. Maybe he was just trying to keep it professional, but this case had to have affected him on a deep level.
Fin struggled to repair his relationship with his son and investigated a hate crime against Ken's fiance in the past, so I'd have liked to have seen a more personal reaction from him during this case.
This character has been absent far too much this entire season as it is. He should never be used as wallpaper.
Benson: There goes our case.
Barba: Man plans, God laughs.
Benson: Yeah, well there's nothing funny about Reverend Gary. Or rape for religious reasons.
I was also really confused about how the new "evidence" helped the defense's case.
All I saw was Father Gary pressuring and coercing Anne into retracting her claim of sexual assault. I didn't understand why Barba didn't just make that clear during redirect rather than panicking that the case was lost because of this non-evidence.
Olivia's line about this not being funny was great, but the drama here seemed contrived because this tape was hardly the Mack truck-sized hole in the prosecution's case it was being treated as.
Lydia: The church has brainwashed her, convinced her that being gay is a sin. I haven't seen her since I moved to New York until tonight.
Fin: What'd you guys do?
Lydia: We had a drink... just a soda, and then we came back to the room. Then the chaperone knocked on the door and said lights out. Anne sneaked me her room key so I could come back later.
Fin: How much later?
Lydia: Maybe 30 minutes. I figured everyone was asleep. I came in and she was crying and she told me she'd been raped.
Fin: She said that?
Lydia: In so many words. She said, "He made me."
Claiming that Anne never said she was raped seemed to be a case of splitting hairs. There's no difference between "he made me have sex" and "he raped me" other than one actually uses the word rape and the other describes being raped.
There is no forced sex that isn't rape, and again, I'm not sure why nobody bothered to point this out.
Sure, the defense was arguing that the sex was "correctional," but a large chunk of the defense was also based on the idea that Anne didn't resist and didn't actually mind having sex because she knew the reason for it. So this argument didn't really help the defense one bit.
I actually felt sorry for Lucas in a way. He was a kid who had been brainwashed by an older adult who was supposed to know better.
What he did to Anne was horrible and wrong, and he needed to be held accountable for it, but I didn't think jail was the right place for him, especially not Riker's Island. Riker's is one of the most notorious and violent jails in America, and sheltered young men are likely to become targets of abuse, including sexual abuse.
This didn't seem like justice to me. I thought Lucas needed mental health treatment and to be deprogrammed so that he would understand why his behavior was wrong and deal with the immense guilt that understanding that would leave him with.
It was also surprising to me that neither Lucas nor Anne dealt with any psychological issues as a result of repressing their sexual orientations, except for believing wholeheartedly that homosexuality was evil and that corrective rape wasn't rape at all.
Suicide is a huge problem among non-heterosexual youth, and being exposed to a religious environment that condemns same-sex attraction greatly increases the risk of depression and suicide.
There wasn't time to address this fully, of course, but if Olivia had mentioned that Lucas was on suicide watch or Anne had experienced more than mild confusion over her predicament, it would have helped make this a bit more realistic.
Despite some issues with the story, "Conversion" was a solid hour of entertainment that is sure to spark some conversations.
Let's have one here. What did you think of this "religious liberty" defense to rape? Did you think the subject was portrayed fairly, or was it too heavy handed?
Weigh in below, and remember that if you missed anything you can always watch Law & Order: SVU online to get caught up.
Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.