Pop culture item #3 – I saw the last 20 minutes or so of Law & Order SVU last night and it was pretty damn interesting – as well as (intentionally) enraging in places – especially the bit where
the judge tells the rape victim (who is a porn star) as he overturns the jury’s guilty verdict, “Young lady, I don’t know if you’re seeking the newly popular status of victim…”
Belle Knox, the Duke student who is a porn star (Belle Knox is her porn name), has a fascinating post about the episode, which is based heavily but not entirely on her experience.
Warren Leight, the executive producer of the show was nice enough to let me see an advance copy of “Pornstar’s Requiem” and he agreed to answer my questions about how this entire episode came to be. (I’ve been careful not to reveal any spoilers, but there are a few plot points contained herein.)
When I asked Leight (who used to be executive producer on HBO’s “In Treatment”) why he chose to dramatize my story, he explained, “As usual, we tried to distill several stories and headlines into one character’s journey. You, and others, have made the case that sex work is legitimate professional work, a potentially empowering choice individuals should be able to make without repercussions or stigmatization. Other students who’ve done pornography have not survived the harassment that followed. We wanted to tell their stories, too.”
I don’t write or discuss my rape often, because I don’t want to be viewed as a porn star cliché, nor do I want people telling me that this is why I’ve made the choices I’ve made, but I know well the chilling rape culture entitlement that comes along with men discovering that I’m a porn star. This is the scenario that plays out on the episode. One of the frat boys accused in “Pornstar’s Requiem” even goes so far as to say to the police the following jaw-dropping line: “I didn’t think you could rape a girl like that.”
But the prosecutor thinks you can, and (SPOILER AGAIN) the jury agrees, but the judge doesn’t. It’s a stomach-turning scene, and impressive for mainstream broadcast tv.
I’ll share with you what the executive producer told me about the writers’ room and the process for putting the script together.
“The writers’ room had been hashing out a number of overlapping issues lately,” Leight told me. “The increasing number of students who’ve turned to pornography to pay their tuition. How for some of those students, it’s been empowering, but for others, it’s led to horrific slut-shaming. And how a few students have been so stigmatized when their sex work becomes public, they felt driven to suicide. We also had long wanted to do an episode about how hard it is for sex workers to get justice when they are victims of sexual assault. The more we talked about these issues, the more we felt they’d combine well into one episode.”
More feminist than most US tv, that’s for damn sure.