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On Wednesday, September 29, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” will air an episode entitled “Behave,” which will tackle the touch subject of getting a rape victim to accept help while also dealing with the often embarrassing and traumatizing situation of having a rape kit performed.
Joining series stars Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay in the episode is Jennifer Love Hewitt, who recently took time out of her schedule to talk with reporters about her guest-starring role in the episode as Vicki. I also had the opportunity to talk with executive producer Neal Baer and Sarah Tofte from Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation.
Jennifer, what made you want to take on this sort of challenging role?
Jennifer: I think you kind of said it — it was different and challenging for me from anything that I’ve done in my career. I think it started with everyone at [the show’s] belief that I could pull it off and it made me really happy and excited. So I went from there — I decided to jump in heart-first
Neal, by the same token what made Jennifer’s work stand out for this role?
Neal: The depth of her feeling — we needed an actor who could really go deep. I’ve been watching her since she was a kid, and I knew she had this realm of emotion and depth that would make her perfect for the part. We never went for anyone else. One of our producers looked it the episode and said ‘this is one of the top five we’ve done over twelve years.’
This question is for everyone: after doing this episode, what advice would you have for women struggling with this rape kit situation?
Jennifer: For me, the thing I learned the most is that this episode is so dear to Mariska’s heart is because of her foundation. I was able to learn a lot about the rape backlog issue. I speak for a little people when I say that I think the assumption is that rape is the crime, but I learned during the episode that there is a greater crime that happens after the rape, when these women have horrible rape kit examinations after getting raped … putting through these test where nothing becomes of them. They sit on a shelf for years, and all this time the women live in fear not knowing if this person is caught and if he’s out there or watching them. It’s the deterioration of life and lack thereof that is the crime after the rape.
That is the episode we want to get out of this episode for people who find themselves in this situation is that if you’re going to get a rape kit examination, we are in a society who does not seem to understand the importance of checking these kits, is that these women have to check in on these kits — even if it brings back awful memories that these women do not want to deal with.
Neal: I echo what Jennifer is saying. Three things:
1. If you are a victim, you can and should come forward because there are people in law enforcement there to help. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
2. If you’re fortunate to never have gone through this, there is still ways to take action, whether it is contacting your chief of police or city council.
3. Demanding that this backlog of rape kits is tested, and making sure the DNA isn’t degenerating.
Sarah: You have to follow up to the police. It puts a record there, and it gives a survivor a chance for justice.
At the same time, what makes the rape kits so difficult is that it is a 4-6 hour process, and it is the least we can do is test these kids and hope that the information found in those kids will help find some justice.