Can restorative justice work for rape survivors?
That's the question Law & Order: SVU Season 22 Episode 8 asked, and for the most part, its answer was NO.
Meanwhile, Kat again butted heads with Carisi while doing nothing to endear herself to viewers.
The minimal role Benson played in this story was unusual.
It was, in part, a reflection of the reality of life in the COVID era. Benson had to pick up her son from school because he had been exposed to COVID and had a temperature.
I wasn't surprised that, in the end, Noah turned out to be COVID-negative. If he'd just been exposed that day, it was unlikely he had already developed COVID symptoms.
But his illness provided a convenient excuse for Benson's absence and kept the continuing subplot of her struggle to be both a mom and a cop alive.
It was understandable, but it felt so weird for Benson not to be a big part of the story because, for many viewers, SVU IS Benson.
Anyway, Benson's absence gave Rollins a chance to shine, and she did great.
Rollins' storyline was the most direct example of restorative justice.
I was thrilled that Law & Order: SVU tried to depict this process in a realistic manner. I've been curious about how well the process works and whether it is a viable alternative to the current criminal justice system since I first studied it in social work school.
Amika: Three hours on that floor. You took away my childhood. The least you can do is listen to what I wrote in my diary.
Darryl: Oh, you're gonna read to me now?
Amika: Yes. And after you've heard it, maybe then you can tell me whether you ever raped a Black girl.
So did it work? Yes and no.
Darryl didn't really admit to the rape and probably learned nothing from the experience, so in that sense, it was a failure. After all, one of the restorative justice goals is for the offender to understand the harm they caused and make an attempt at amends.
But there was a second and unexpected benefit: Imami and Amika had the most honest conversation they'd ever had about their shared traumatic experience while stuck together waiting for Darryl to return from lockdown.
Rollins successfully facilitated a tough conversation, and the women finally began to face the feelings they'd buried for over 20 years.
Their dialogue was like a two-woman play. It was raw, authentic, and emotional.
And most importantly, the sisters finally heard one another.
Their dilemma made a few important points about the nature of this type of trauma, too.
Chief among them was the way that joint survivors often feel that the other survivor had it better.
Amika felt that Imami "got off easy" because she wasn't raped, while Imami felt so invisible and dismissed that in some ways, it seemed to her it would have been easier to deal with if she had been assaulted too.
But ultimately, the point here was how the inability to talk about or face trauma impacts people's lives.
The women's mother refused to let them testify to protect them, so they never had the opportunity to speak their truth, and then they both stayed silent about their experiences for over two decades.
All of that old anger and pain was left to fester. It was no wonder that when they were forced to revisit it, they exploded at each other!
And they didn't need their rapist to understand what he'd done to them. They needed to understand each other.
That was a powerful message! They were never going to get any satisfaction from Darryl, so thank God their healing didn't depend on it.
Meanwhile, the parole hearing Fin attended was similar enough to the restorative justice meeting to make a point.
This storyline asked whether a serial rapist can ever truly change, and judging from what happened, the SVU writers don't think so.
Jimmy claimed to have found enlightenment in jail and to want to ask for forgiveness, only to prove he was a con artist who was still manipulating one of his victims.
If you can't keep him locked up for my sake, keep him locked up for all the women who are still whole, all the women Jimmy Gunn will rape if he gets out.Nora
Norah overcame her resistance to the process to read his letters and tell him how she felt, only to discover his whole remorseful act was phony.
I'm not sure how I feel about that.
On the one hand, no amount of remorse can make up for having raped someone. This crime violates boundaries like no other and leaves survivors struggling with complicated feelings.
It's not like the offender can apologize and be done with it.
But restorative justice isn't about forgetting the crime that happened. It's about the offender taking full responsibility for his actions and facing the harm he caused his victims.
So if Jimmy had been for real, this could have been a powerful story about how to reduce the incidence of rape by holding rapists accountable instead of merely punishing them.
And I'm not sure whether that's something realistic to hope for or not.
Either way, though, Nora's speech was one of the most emotional parts of the hour, and I was glad she stood up for herself instead of feeling that testifying at trial was enough.
As with the Rollins story, this subplot had a happy-ish ending. The process ended up helping Nora even though it didn't work in terms of rehabilitating her rapist.
Finally, I don't have anything polite to say about Kat and her cousin.
Kat is an annoying character at the best of times.
She jumps the gun way too often, usually making things worse in the process.
And she often makes Carisi the target of her ire instead of the system that Carisi is required to follow, which is equally irritating.
This story about her cousin was either going to redeem her or make her even less likable. Sadly, it went the latter direction.
The whole plot reminded me of all the time Rollins went out of her way to help her useless sister, only to end up in trouble herself. This wasn't quite that bad, but it didn't do anyone any favors either.
It would be hard to prove a case against Xavier from the get-go because Lili was a reluctant witness who wasn't sure anyone could do anything about what happened.
I knew that having her try to entrap Xavier wasn't going to work.
She's a civilian, not a cop, and seemed ambivalent about the whole thing. And Kat is impulsive even when her family isn't involved, so there was no way she wasn't going to mess this up, either.
It was also unlikely that Xavier would confess that he raped her while sitting in a restaurant having drinks, so the undercover assignment didn't seem like the best way to go.
I wasn't surprised when Lili totally fell for his claims of remorse. But it did make a nice parallel with the other two stories.
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Law & Order: SVU continues its historic 21st season on NBC on Thursdays at 9 PM EST/PST.