Yes, Virginia, There Is A Rape Culture
A campus rape story blows up in the media, and then it blows up in the faces of the sex police.
Wholesome, Midwestern-bred college student "Jane" goes on true-crime talk show America's Worst Crimes to tell of a horrific gang rape she survived as a student at Hudson University. Normally SVU wouldn't touch this, what with the old evidence and the fact that there was never even a complaint made. But when they get a call from the mayor's wife, Benson decides it's time to wade in whether she wants to or not (she doesn't).
"Jane" goes public as actual student Heather Manning, proclaims herself the face of a new movement against rape culture, and plays as many rings of the media circus as she can possibly manage, naming names in a story that gets worse -- and more elaborate -- with each iteration.
One of the frat boys actually did rape Heather, but such a hash has been made of the case by now that an actual prosecution is impossible.
Remember that mess Rolling Stone made of its retraction about the alleged University of Virginia gang-rape victim? Of course, everyone does. It clearly serves as the inspiration for the non-apology that America's Worst Crimes correspondent Skip Hunter has to make on camera.
The real story was publicized in print instead of on TV, and if there was a "rape advocate" who ended up at the center of the whole shitstorm at University of Virginia, I wasn't aware of it. Also, the venue is, of course, changed to "Hudson University" because New York.
Rob Morrow's Skip Hunter is clearly complicit in blowing up the story on TV. But the real heavy lifting is done by rape advocate Jessica Dillon (Breaking Bad's Laura Fraser), who is more than happy to fill in the many blanks in Heather's highly porous memory, using lots of The Accused-flavored Hamburger Helper™.
Right at the beginning, America's Worst Crimes stages a dramatic reenactment of Heather's account. And, yeesh.
Olivia regrets not vetting or checking the story more, or really at all, after it's much too late for her to do anything to fix it.
Olivia admits at the end that the case pressed all of her buttons, which should have been a red flag at the beginning. While it's happening, however, Carisi complains about the lameness of the investigation and the increasing shakiness of the case, and mildly resents it when Rollins implies to a witness that he's a sexist troglodyte.
Because the media is involved, Fin protests at the opening, "Don't make me talk to reporters!" Also, even as Heather's story crumbles, he remains a stalwart victim's advocate: "DNA don't lie." But mostly, the writers seem to have forgotten that Ice-T is even ON the show, and passed all of his lines on to Carisi.
Given Heather's ever-changing story, months-old evidence, and lack of any rape kit ever, Barba has no choice but to drop all charges. However, the punk who actually raped Heather favors him with a smug grin that is as good as a confession to we, the viewers.
Olivia still has a child, and eventually strikes a truce with the ever-skeptical president of Hudson University. She still sucks at politics, clearly.