Why I Feel So Sad About Mike Tyson's Upcoming Appearance On SVU

This is a man who describes the best punch he ever threw as the one that hit his ex-wife, Robin Givens. This is not a nice man. He is not an ally of women or victims. He is the opposite, he is a perpetrator, and not one who feels much remorse by the sounds of it.
Publish date:
January 31, 2013
rape, feminism, television, issues, sexual assault, svu

Since I wrote my last piece finally vocalizing my love for Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, something awful happened. I feel like I cursed it in my obvious television omnipotence but, to be honest, I'm loathe to take any responsibility for what feels like a real travesty in the world of scandalous celebrity cameos.

Mike Tyson, convicted rapist and grossly infamous misogynist who loves to talk about whores and tramps when he isn’t casually joking about his tendency towards a casual bit of domestic violence, got cast as ‘a murderer on death row who is also the victim of a difficult childhood’ in an episode airing next month.

This is a man who describes the best punch he ever threw as the one that hit his ex-wife, Robin Givens – 'She really offended me and I went BAM. She flew backwards, hitting every wall in the apartment … That was the best punch I've ever thrown in my entire life.' This is not a nice man. He is not an ally of women or victims. He is the opposite, he is a perpetrator, and not one who feels much remorse by the sounds of it.

Mike Tyson served three years of a six year sentence for rape in 1992. His casting in a TV drama that I (amongst good company) have celebrated for its progressive approach to sexual assault feels like a real blow.

I love a cameo as much as the next girl (Mischa Barton playing a strung out prostitute? I’m down) but not only is the casting ridiculously insensitive and bringing into question every modicum of respect I have for the production team and writers, but it reminds me of something (shockingly) more serious than the telly.

It reminds me that rape doesn’t really matter. That it’s the sort of crime that doesn’t really count. That if you are one of the pathetically small proportion of perpetrators who do end up serving time, once you’ve done it, you are absolved and can move on in whatever direction you please, whether that is interacting with victims in 'their' domain or not. You are afforded a leniency that (often) your victim isn’t.

This is a particularly bizarre phenomenon in celebrity culture. We (miserable society, not xoJane, obviously) seem depressingly inclined to blame the victim, to look at her skirt or her blood alcohol levels, what she said in the bar to the guy who wouldn’t take no for an answer because she already implied yes with her eyes, or something equally ridiculous.

When we bring celebrity into this, we are even less likely to look at the fact that a man raping a woman is unacceptable, the waters become even muddier.

Nothing happened to Bill Cosby when 13 Jane Does came forward reporting rape (apart from a bit of out of court settling, which his celebrity ensured he could afford). Nothing happened to R. Kelly outside a few lewd jokes on comedy roasts. Nothing much even happened to Polanski, when the girl that he raped was 13 years old - again, he could afford to live outside of the law.

There is a distressingly frequent consistency of ‘celebrity sexual assault’ with football players in the UK that is often made light of by virtue of its very prevalence in the media. These men are still in the public eye, they still make their millions, their crimes have fallen by the wayside when their ability to entertain is considered more important than the way they have abused women.

It is an amazingly depressing example of when men with money, and therefore power, get to evade the rules – rules which are already far too lax. It feels particularly frustrating that those who are incarcerated for (what I consider to be) less 'serious' crimes struggle to re-enter employment when celebrities are almost lauded for it, given much-desired column inches and television roles.

This is the sort of issue that SVU usually covers – I don’t know why they are playing into it with either such hideous ignorance or such desperate media-baiting. I can’t decide which is worse. They both suck.

Mike Tyson maintained his innocence for a long time, even saying in an interview with Greta Van Susteren how cross the accusations made him – ‘I just hate her guts. She put me in that state, where I don't know. I really wish I did now. But now I really do want to rape her.’ God, I hate when I get that cross. It must have been hard for him. He sounds like that prison sentence really altered his perspective. What a guy.

I feel really cross right now. Not so cross that considering raping someone would ever remotely come into play, though. Not for a second. Because that isn’t how things work, rape isn’t something that you do to spite someone, it isn’t something that you can forget, it is a hideous, life-changing crime that should be afforded the consequences that it deserves.

And, in my opinion, one of those consequences ought be not being afforded a carte-blanche to interact with institutions, services or shows that engage with victims. Rape is one of those things, like domestic violence, that isn't a funny punchline, it's a terrifying reality for an all-too-high number of women.

I am one for forgiveness, truly. I am not screaming bring back hanging. I am not saying let no man convicted of assault ever work again - I do understand that he has 'paid his debt' to society, even if I feel like that time was too little. Even if he consistently exhibits a propensity to joke about crimes and ideologies that hurt women, yes, he did his sentence.

But I am asking that we do not employ those convicted of sexually based offences on shows that focus on challenging the stereotypes around them. I do not feel that is too much to ask.

I don't know if I am asking too much of a television show that directly aligns itself with victim support, where the main character (Olivia Benson played by Mariska Hargitay) has set up a charity to help survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse in real life, or if just asking that question shows how pitifully low societal standards have fallen at holding abusers accountable for their actions.

Marcie Kaveney has set up a petition with over 7,000 signatures to ask the SVU executives to reconsider their decision. I am signing it and hoping that they do, because I really love SVU and I don’t want to have to stop watching it. And, if they go ahead with Tyson, I think I will.

Do you want to sign the petition? Do you feel a bit let-down by SVU? Holla at me. And I'm on Twitter @oliviasinger.