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SVU Shines a Light on the Rape Culture at College Campuses

04/25/2013 03:24 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2013

Tonight's harrowing SVU about a college systematically mistreating its student/rape victims featured plot twists so shocking they hardly seemed plausible -- except that they were drawn directly from real-life cases.

Recap: A pretty, young college freshman named Lindsey goes to a frat party, where a cocky blueblood named Travis and two of Travis's frat brothers brutally gang rape her.

Lindsey goes to a hospital, but before a sex kit is done, the head of the college's Campus Security advises her to take a shower. She washes away much of the evidence. And although she reports the rape to Olivia and Amanda, she also sends a topless Snapchat photo of herself to Travis the next day. (He asked for it, and she thought he might date her if she sent it.) After that photo ends up on the "Slut of the Week" website, Lindsey backs down and drops the charges. She doesn't want to end up like Renee, another college girl who Travis raped, and who ended up in a psych ward.

Olivia visits Renee in the mental hospital. The girl is undergoing electric-shock treatments for major depression. When her shock session is over, Renee describes how Travis raped her at the frat house, and, adding insult to injury, how Campus Security didn't believe her, the school counselor discouraged her from coming forward, and the college had her admitted to the mental hospital after she became suicidal.

The detectives do outreach at the school, and find ten more victims of Travis and his "Rape Factory" frat house. Lindsey, however, doesn't want to come forward. She wants to pretend it never happened.

ADA Barba launches an investigation, putting many of the college officials in the grand jury hotseat. A third rape victim testifies that when she reported Travis's rape of her, the head of Campus Security told her, "Sex is like a football game, sometimes when you watch your game tape, you can see your mistakes and do better next time."

Meanwhile, the frat boys are getting worse. They post online some cell-phone videos where they laugh about how they raped the girl. ADA Barba describes how they chanted, "No means yes. Yes means anal."

The authorities finally charge Travis and his buddies with rape, and the Dean as an accessory to rape. But it's too late for Lindsey, who kills herself.

Verdict: A

What they got right:

This was an important episode. Shocking as they were, many of the story's details came directly from real-life college rape cases. Many of America's college campuses have proven themselves unable or unwilling to deal with rape cases on their campuses. Some actually seem to have hidden the assaults, discouraged victims from coming forward, or even harassed victims -- all to keep these embarrassing cases from hurting the college's image.

There's the real case of 19-year-old Lizzy Seeberg, who committed suicide after a Notre Dame football player allegedly sexually assaulted her. According to The Nation, university officials "claimed Lizzy was a 'troubled girl' who was 'all over the boy,' as well as mentally unstable... To show that she wouldn't rock the boat, Lizzy was compelled by her peers to go to the next game, stencil the Notre Dame logos into her face and cheer her assaulter."

In a University of North Carolina case, a woman alleged that when she reported her rape in 2007, she was told by an administrator: "Rape is like a football game, Annie. If you look back on the game, and you're the quarterback and you're in charge, is there anything that you would have done differently in that situation?"

Another UNC Student was threatened with expulsion from the college if she reported her rape to the police, for violating the school honor code:

In a complaint filed with the US Department of Education, UNC's former Dean of Students claimed that UNC pressured her to under-report sexual assault cases and harassed her when she wouldn't.

Here's the story of an Amherst rape victim whose claims to campus police were ignored, and who was admitted to a psych ward after she became suicidal as a result.

Horrific as the chant Barba mentioned was, it's a real thing. In 2010, a group of male Yale students stood on the campus chanting: "No means yes, yes means anal." You can see the video here.

And you've probably seen by now the dismaying video that Steubenville football players posted online after two of their friends sexually assaulted a passed-out drunk girl:

These instances illustrate not just a series of individual bad judgments, but an entire rape culture that pervades our country's schools. As parents, we must teach our sons to respect girls. As a society, we should demand that colleges treat victims of these most intimate crimes with the dignity and support they deserve -- and that perpetrators are held accountable.

What they got wrong:

The Dean of Students wasn't an accessory to rape. Yes, she could be guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice, for her testimony in the grand jury. But to give her a rape charge for failing to stop a rape culture on her campus, while perhaps satisfying on a dramatic level, was not legally supportable.

What do you think, SVU fans? What do colleges need to do to ensure that rape victims are treated with dignity and support? What should parents and teachers do to teach boys to respect women? How can we change the culture of rape on college campuses? Leave your comments.

CORRECTION: A previous version of his post referred to the incident at Notre Dame as an alleged rape. The incident at Notre Dame was allegedly a sexual assault.

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