Victim Shaming: SVU’s Detective Benson & Tutuola vs. Real NYPD Detectives
A survivor story written by Tiffany S.
Along with millions of avid viewers, I’ve been a fan of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for almost 20 years. The compassion these characters have for victims of sexual assault is unparalleled to the strong burden of shame and fear felt. You’re offered a comforting blanket and a cup of warm cocoa; another way to let you know you’re safe now.
One in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime and one in six women will experience attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Of those women, there’s been dialogue of why they don’t come forward after being attacked…but what about us women who do & are then dismissed?
This is my story:
After over three hours of waiting, two detectives from NYPD’s Special Victims Division walked into my hospital room. A male and a female both shook my hand and introduced themselves.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” they say simultaneously. I just smile. Mr. Detective takes the lead. “So, let’s start from the beginning Ms. Stiles, take your time and tell us what happened”. I took a deep breath and without interruption, I verbally replay what occurred in my home 15 hours prior.
“Ok that was great, tell us again, slower, now start from the beginning”. Again, I tell the same story…slower. As expected, he takes notes.
“How long have you known him and where did you meet?” Outside of a shopping center about a month ago I say.
“And this was at your home?” Yes.
“Do you live alone?” Yes.
“Did he know you lived alone?” Yes.
“Did he kiss you?” Yes.
“Did you let him kiss you?” Yes.
“Did he want sex?” Yes.
“And you didn’t?” No.
Silence. He takes notes.
During the countless back and forth of my exact same story from start to finish, back to start again, to the middle, back to start, I obviously became agitated…and I started believing Mr. Detective. Maybe he was right. After all, I did answer the door and let him in, right? I did kiss him, right? This wasn’t the monster from the alley; I knew him, right?
He’d spent time in prison for a non-violent crime and had only been home for seven months. I chose to dismiss the bright red flags because everybody deserves a second chance. The condition of his release was he’d remain on parole for life. No police contact or back to the big house to serve out his sentence. With him disclosing that information to me, I had something in my back pocket, just in case he makes me mad, I’ve got the ultimate revenge – or so Mr. Detective assumed.
“So, you’re telling me he felt comfortable enough to tell you all that, and you felt comfortable enough to still be around him?” Stupidity starts to set it in and softly I reply – yes. “Look, you seem like a nice woman, well educated, got a full life ahead of you and it sounds to me like he’s the one who’s got a lot to lose”. I pull the hospital gown closer to my skin. He looks at his partner, their eyes speaking in code. He crosses his legs, she remains standing, still not saying a word.
“When he wanted sex and you said no, what did he say?”
How long do you think I was going to wait?
“Then what did you say?”
Instantly I start to cry. Taking a beat, my chest sinks, I can’t look Mr. Detective in the eye.
“You know whatever happened wasn’t your fault, right?” He hands me a tissue. Wiping my nose, I respond. I told him to chill, then I said stop it and let go of my arms; you’re starting to hurt me, and this is not funny – get off me now!
“Are you sure you said it loud enough for him to hear you?”
“Did you push him off?”
“Did you giggle when you said no?”
“Do you know what the true definition of rape is?”
“Do you know what they do to rapists in prison?”
“Have you ever misunderstood advances?”
“Or maybe you wanted more than sex, like a relationship, and he wasn’t ready. He’d only been home for a few months – did that make you mad? Would people say that you’re a vengeful person?”
Wait, now I’m lost. He just said that it wasn’t my…ok, what’s happening?
Every time I tried to answer one question, Mr. Detective made it his mission to toss five more at me. He also made it very clear that if he takes this case & it goes to trial; the defense attorney’s questions will be twenty times worse. My past sexual partners would be subpoenaed, and intimate questions will be asked in court in front of my family and friends.
Who wants to be humiliated repeatedly?
“Why did you only report it 15 hours later, did you have time to think about how you’re going to get him back?” He continues to verbally strip me of my pride, person and womanhood. My hands shaking, heavy tears about to roll down my face, holding my breath, I look to Ms. Detective for help. The agony in my eyes are screaming to her – as a woman make him stop, make him leave, I want to talk to you, please help me. I can hear the piercing echo in my mind…but my lips are not moving. For the second time, I’m paralyzed with fear & stay silent. I felt confused, I started to stutter, I looked down, I was a little girl being scolded for being a tattletale. Nobody likes a tattletale.
It’s not often you read about this part of our story – the story of what happens in that hospital room. When it’s just you; bare in vulnerability, and sitting in the unknown. It felt more like an interrogation than an interview. The use of intimidating question tactics left me more traumatized than the actual assault.
After an intense two minutes of silence, Mr. Detective opens his folder and hands me a document and a pen. At the top of the document was a statement, “No crime as committed, and I would not be pursuing charges.” Was this his end game from the beginning?
As I gathered my belongings, the sweet nurse wished me luck. I smiled and watched as she tore off the white exam paper I sat on, crumbled it up & tossed it to waste; just like my time. I cried myself to sleep that night and many nights after that. I cried for the secrets I’ve kept. I cried for all the women who sat in that hospital room before me & those that came after me. I cried because we were not protected & served.