The newly popular status

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.


  1. says

    I was reminded of this by reading your article, Ophelia, so I hope you’ll forgive me for reminding everyone about the recent Christy Mack + friend vs. War Machine story. What a nightmare that was. It’s in court now, and it looks like “War Machine” is going for a plea bargain. No defense. Open and shut. He won’t be doing it again in a good long while.

    Then you compare their twitter feeds. Mack is fundraising; not for herself, but for people who have been similarly afflicted. War Machine is… well, I don’t know. I can’t really believe it. Go look at it. It’s… well, I kind of pity him. His whole alpha male world came down on him.

  2. says

    I’m ambivalent. I watch SVU because, more often than not, it lets me see justice get done–cops who believe the victims, prosecutors that defend them from slut shaming and other silencing tactics in court, judges that pass good sentences–when the models the stories are based on got screwed over by the system in real life. In short, I want a short escape into a just world fantasy. So when they do stories (and there have been a lot of them lately) in which things fall apart I’m annoyed and disappointed. Then again, if it gets some people to wake up to real world injustice I guess I can live with it.

  3. says

    @#2, I’m with you, though just as often I want to see the phoney self-righteous fake cop get taken down.

    There’s not justice; there’s just us.

  4. says

    As much as I love SVU, a lot of episodes are difficult to watch because they hit very close — too close — to home. But I love, love, love, that they tackle all kinds of under-addressed social issues, and help make people aware of what goes on in the world.

    It also feels good — really good — to hear famous people standing up and saying “No more”.

  5. freemage says

    I remember there was a similar episode outcome (I think on the original L&O, but I might be wrong about that) where they heavily telegraphed the ending–the judge was openly hostile to the notion that a mentally handicapped girl had been raped by her peers. Even when it was demonstrated in court that the teens knew she was “r*****ed” and joked about it (asterisks because I’ve come to despise the word; quotes because that’s what was used in the episode), the judge overturned a guilty verdict because he believed the girl had consented (as if she was capable of giving consent in the first place).

    Any time that episode comes up in re-runs, I want to throw something through the screen every time the judge is talking.

  6. VilcaRomba says

    Freemage: That judge (William Wright, played by Ron McLarty) actually became a recurring character. When the writers needed a judge to oppose McCoy for increasingly specious and improper reasons, they used him.

    He returned in the season 10 opener (“Gunshow”), which was based on the Marc Lepine massacre (it featured a guy who shot up a meeting of women college students in Central Park). The protagonists had to cut a deal with the actual shooter, so they went after the gun manufacturer for making guns that were so easy to convert into assault rifles. Wright dismissed the case against the gun company CEO, and after McCoy (the protagonist lawyer) had that decision reversed, Wright artificially raised the burden of proof to a point that McCoy couldn’t meet (basically, ‘the company had to know beyond all doubt that its customers would make assault rifles out of their guns’.) When McCoy wrangled a guilty verdict against the CEO anyways, Wright overturned it.

    He showed up one final time in an early season 11 episode (“Dissonance”), in which a conductor was accused of murdering one of the musicians in his orchestra. Wright threw roadblocks in McCoy’s way because he felt that McCoy was just trying to achieve fame by going after a famous celebrity. (Ultimately, the conductor’s wife confessed to the crime.)

  7. VilcaRomba says

    Oops, forgot one important detail–in “Gunshow”, the reason the lawyers had to make a deal with the shooter was because the gun company was refusing to cooperate with their investigation. That was another reason why the lawyers went after the gun company.

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