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The “Behave” episode of LAW & ORDER: SVU, airing Wednesday, September 29 at 9pm/8 central focuses on the severe backlog of untested rape kits in many cities and towns in our country. Jennifer Love Hewitt guest stars as a woman afraid to leave her home after being repeatedly raped by the same man and viewers will see some of her struggle.
Jennifer Love Hewitt, SVU executive producer Neal Baer, and Sarah Tofte of the Joyful Heart Foundation recently talked to the press about the episode, the real-life rape kit back-log issue, and what the Joyful Heart Foundation is doing, as well as what we can do, to help address the backlog.
On how the “Behave” episode came about
Neal said that he was at a gala Mariska Hargitay was throwing for her Joyful Heart Foundation and he talked to a woman who stayed locked up in her house because a rapist had stolen her driver’s license. He began writing the story on a napkin and told Mariska he finally had a way to tell the rape kit backlog story.
On how Jennifer was cast
Jennifer said the role seemed very different and challenging and she was honored that the SVU team thought she could pull it off. She explained that they sent the script, she loved it and she jumped in heart first.
For his part, Neal said that they needed an actor with real depth of feeling and they knew Jennifer acted from her heart and had a “well of emotion.” They never really considered anyone else.
On what the role means to Jennifer
Jennifer called her time on SVU a “deep, painful, extraordinary journey” that transcended acting for her. When she first heard about the role, she thought it was exciting, but when she got there and met Mariska and the strong, beautiful women from the Joyful Heart Foundation, she found a “sisterhood of the heart” and the role ended up being a “soulful journey” she couldn’t have imagined. It was also both fun and eye-opening for her.
According to Jennifer, this role made her fall in love with acting again and that she doesn’t think she will act the same way again. She also said it has made her look differently at the kinds of roles she wants to take. She said in the past she has been having fun, but those eight days at SVU felt like she really started acting.
On how Jennifer prepared for the role
Jennifer claimed she didn’t really do any preparation because she couldn’t really imagine what the character has gone through and she was afraid to wrap her mind around it. She gratefully said the cast and crew, especially Mariska, really pushed her, telling her that she had done good work before, but for this she needed to go much deeper. She said she looked at it as she had one job: to give it everything she had, so she did.
On Jennifer’s “vanity lesson”
For this role, Jennifer is stripped down, make-up wise, and Jennifer admitted that–and the headlines about her on-set pictures– made her realize that she has probably relied too much on perfect hair and makeup in other roles–more than she wanted to admit or is comfortable with. While she is used to spending two hours in the makeup chair, for this role, she was out in ten minutes, which scared her a little.
Jennifer said she learned that “Hair and makeup are great, but the lack of them is better.”
On the crossover with Law & Order: LA
Olivia travels to Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles in the course of her investigation into rape kits in this episode and Neal said that there was an LA character in the script before LOLA was finalized, so when LOLA did come online, it only made sense to use Detective Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) as that character.
On message television
When asked how he balanced the entertainment part of this episode with the message part, Neal answered that he has never looked at what he does as either entertainment or education. He doesn’t want to be in either mindset and instead sees himself as telling stories.
According to Neal, this is a raw, compelling story about a woman who was horribly violated and is now living in terror. He said there is also a sense of hope and justice and an understanding of what we can do to help on this issue and he pointed out that this may be one of the top five shows they’ve done in the entire series.
Jennifer said that she thinks people in the entertainment industry are in a beautiful position to visually show an issue like this and also hopefully make people feel it. She thinks there is a duty to tell these stories.
On advice to women afraid to get rape kit examination
Neal, Jennifer, and Sarah all agree that victims should not let the backlog issue deter them from getting a rape kit examination, though Sarah added that since women have to submit to a 4-6 hour examination, the least we could do is test the kits.
Jennifer said that rape victims should also (and unfortunately) take the initiative and check up on the status of their kits, even though it could bring up painful memories.
On the Joyful Heart Foundation’s action on the rape kit backlog
Sarah explained that on the morning of September 29, Joyful Heart is launching a new website: endthebacklog. org, which will be a comprehensive and full service resource about the backlog issue. People can educate themselves and get data on the cities with backlogs. There will be a platform to work with law enforcement and survivors can share their stories and get information on how to check the status of their kits.
Mariska and Joyful Heart will also continue their outreach and education efforts
On what we can do to help
There are many cases across the country where a victim is raped by someone who would have been caught had another victims rape kit been tested. Some cities,– New York, for example–are starting to cut down on their backlog, but there is much work to be done and Neal said that those of us who are fortunate enough to have not been affected by this issue can still take action by contacting our police chiefs and city councils and telling them we want the backlog opened up and all rape kits tested.
The twelfth season of Law & Order: SVU premieres on Wednesday, September 22 at 9pm with the “Behave” episode airing on September 29. You can find all our Law & Order: SVU coverage here.