When it comes to sexual assault, defendants are often guilty until proven innocent.
False accusations are rare, but they do happen -- and the taint of a rape accusation can often follow a person for years after the incident.
Law & Order: SVU Season 19 Episode 14 addressed this problem with a dramatic case involving college students, a ton of bad judgment, and Carisi getting caught in the middle when the accuser happened to be his niece.
The whole false accusation issue is a tricky one that could have alienated viewers if not handled properly.
I think it took courage for SVU to address this problem because the suggestion that false accusations could be a problem for the accused could lead down a slippery slope.
It's important not to suggest that most rape victims are lying or that accusers shouldn't be believed, yet it's also important to acknowledge that this problem exists.
I think "In Loco Parentis" did a good job of balancing these issues.
It wasn't clear what had happened and whether there was a deliberate intent, alcohol-fueled misunderstandings, or what until Mia confessed that she'd made the rape up.
After that, I felt bad for Ethan, but then he raped her for real and became everything of which he had been accused.
Ethan's mother: The police said they don't have enough evidence. Maybe the school will reconsider. Can you tell them?
Rollins: The school did say you were entitled to an appeal.
Ethan: What does it matter? I can't go back there. Everyone thinks I'm a rapist.
Ethan's mother: Don't say that, honey.
Ethan: It's true. I can't go back to Hudson and no other school will take me when they find out why I left. Your son the future doctor, that's not happening anymore. Get used to it.
And then there was the whole question of whether a rape victim can be credible when she lied in the past about this very issue.
It all kept my interest and kept me guessing about what had really happened when and what was coming next.
Mia: He moved so fast. I wasn't ready. But I said Yes.
Carisi: What are you saying? Are you saying you lied?
Mia: I didn't mean to... and then Renata asked me about him and I didn't want her to be mad at me so I said he raped me. I didn't know she was going to tell the RA and the school and the police... I never meant for it to get this far.
Carisi: Mia! Do you know how serious this is?
Mia: I'm sorry!
Carisi: I'm not the one you should be apologizing to. That's Ethan.
Mia: I ruined his life and now I don't know what to do.
Carisi: You make this right, that's what you do.
As for Carisi, he seemed to make one mistake after another, probably because he was too close to the case.
He should not have been part of the investigation, unofficially or otherwise, and he definitely should not have promised Mia to keep it secret that she had lied about the first incident.
At the very least, he needed to let Stone know so that he wouldn't be blindsided and could prepare his case adequately.
Heller: Can you tell me what Mia told you about the first rape?
Heller: Can you?
Carisi: There was no first rape.
Heller: So Mia lied to the school tribunal?
Heller: She lied to your fellow officers. She lied to this court. I'm done. We can all go home now.
It was nice that Stone forgave him so quickly and prioritized his honesty over the damage the whole thing did to the case, but the fact still remains that Ethan might have walked on the second rape, and that would have partially been Carisi's fault.
Stone: Carisi's niece may not have remembered the first assault, but the second one... I believe her.
Benson: So do I.
Stone: She's still an imperfect witness.
Benson: Welcome to sex crimes.
As for Stone, I was pretty impressed with his performance in court. It seems like the biggest adjustment he needed to make is expecting a high degree of certainty going in, but once he was actually in the courtroom, his natural abilities took over.
I'm not really a fan of these Perry Mason moments where somebody breaks down on the stand and confesses to something major at the last moment, but since Ethan's confession helped Stone prove himself I'll make an exception for this one.
Stone: I'm just used to having more evidence before I go to trial.
Benson: You have the victim's word. We go to trial to give her an opportunity to look her rapist in the eye and tell her truth. Because truth heals. If you go into this because you're expecting to win, you're in the wrong place.
I loved Benson's explanation of why SVU takes cases to trial.
I suspect that in real life, rape cases are dropped or pled out every day because the DA doesn't have a winnable case, but I liked the idealistic notion of going to court to give the rape victim the right to confront the rapist whether or not justice will ultimately be served.
Benson: You haven't prosecuted a lot of college age rapes, have you?
Stone: Actually, none.
This case also showed how poor judgment, impulsive decisions, and putting peers' feelings above the truth -- all hallmarks of teenage and young adult life -- can spiral out of control and have serious consequences.
Mia made an exceedingly poor choice by lying about what happened between her and Ethan in the first place, and she didn't realize that her roommate might care about her enough to report the alleged rape.
If it didn't involve a serious crime with serious consequences, we might chalk her behavior up to inexperience, poor judgment, or just plain stupidity and hope she learns from it.
There were severe consequences for both her and Ethan and even if he hadn't decided to become what he was accused of and rape her for real, neither of their lives would have been the same afterward.
I liked Carisi's firm admonishment of her behavior and his advice to make amends, but after she was raped, I felt like we should have all seen that coming.
Judge: You crossed a line, Ms. Heller.
Heller: A bunch of eggheads ruined a kid's life on evidence that wouldn't make it in a real court. I think that line was crossed a long time ago.
Heller was overzealous, and she seemed unaware of the fact that her client had done something wrong in the end, yet she was also right that before the actual rape, his life had been ruined by false accusations that had little merit behind them.
There were no winners here, and Mia did not deserve to be raped because of what she'd done, but I did think there should have been some consequences for her behavior other than a lecture from her uncle and then being ripped apart on the stand.
What did you think of "In Loco Parentis"?
Did you believe Mia before her lie was revealed?
Did you think there should be consequences for both kids' behavior even though she did end up suffering a traumatic sexual assault?
How did you think Stone did at his first real trial?
Weigh in below, and don't forget if you missed anything you can always watch Law & Order: SVU online.