Vice President Joe Biden is known for his harmless gaffes and reputation as the cool grandpa who loves his Corvette, but throughout his tenure in the Senate and White House, he’s worked particularly hard on helping and seeking justice for rape survivors. And despite his term winding to a close, he continued his call to action this week—with a surprising twist.
The second episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’s 18th season opened with Biden standing behind a podium in front of a small crowd gathered to honor Detective Olivia Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay. While Benson may not be a real detective, Hargitay is a real-life activist, and the work for which her character was honored—helping clear the backlog of untested rape kits—is an all-too-real issue that her Joyful Heart Foundation is working to improve. On Wednesday’s show, we once again heard how Biden, too, holds this issue dear.
"The greatest sin any person can commit is the abuse of power, and the greatest abuse of power is rape,” Biden said on the show, using the words of his late father. He then spoke about victims, and how "it takes a long time for a woman to heal. When a [rape] victim isn't believed…when she goes through the invasive process of having a rape kit put together…and then it’s never tested, we fail. We failed her. We fail so many women." While these words were ultimately part of a Hollywood script, his life’s work shows he meant all of it.
After these heavy words, Biden honored Benson for her efforts to clear New York City's backlog, which helped exonerate a previously convicted rapist, who was present at the gathering. Despite the fact that the episode ends in ruin (spoiler: the wrongfully convicted rapist ends up raping and murdering his accusers' adult daughter because of the sexual trauma he suffered in prison), the importance of clearing the backlog cannot be underscored.
If Biden's rhetoric sounds familiar, that's because the writers took the language straight from his past statements on rape. SVU writer Kevin Fox shared with a fan on Twitter that he "cribbed lines from his old speeches so it would sound like him, then he riffed on them a bit on set." But unlike a classic Biden riff gone awry, here, the Vice President set the perfect tone for raising awareness about a serious issue, albeit in a fictional setting.
The rape kit backlog has plagued states for years, but the issue didn't come to the forefront until fairly recently. California Attorney General and 2016 Senatorial candidate Kamala Harris had a career-defining moment in 2012 when she announced her state's backlog had been cleared. But it's a problem that persists, even in California.
“A rape kit going untested means there could be a predator walking the streets who has not been arrested, not held accountable, not prosecuted and not locked up,” Harris told the San Francisco Chronicle back in March, when a six-year-old rape kit was finally tested and lead to the identification of a teen's rapist. “That’s scary not only for the victim to whom the crime already occurred, but any potential future victims."
It also means that innocent men can walk free.
Biden, along with President Obama, was instrumental in launching the It's On Us campaign in 2014 to end sexual assault on college campuses. That same year, He also appointed Lynn Rosenthal, the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, to keep him apprised of domestic violence issues and to focus on a future free of violence against women. But his record extends back much farther: In 1990, as a senator from Delaware, he introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which completely changed the way the government and law enforcement viewed domestic violence and other crimes against women.
In many ways, Biden was the original Woke Bae.
Marisa Kabas is a Sex + Life reporter based in New York City. She loves baseball, bunnies and bagels.