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It’s obvious that crime shows, like Law & Order Special Victims Unit, often pull “inspiration” for episodes from real-life situations, however horrid they might be. And last week’s fourth episode into season 18 was no exception. The bulk of the storyline seemed to be based on Suzy Favor Hamilton’s journey from Olympic athlete, to Las Vegas escort, to a bipolar diagnosis, to coming out the other side as a huge advocate for mental illness awareness. The former professional runner shared her thoughts and answered some questions in a recent blog after watching the episode herself.
From Suzy Favor Hamilton: I couldn’t care less about any financial concerns, such as royalties. A couple of Twitter followers mentioned that I should go after them, and I have no desire to do so. All I was trying to express was the feeling I felt when I learned about the episode. I just felt a little violated. It felt sneaky. But I also wanted to express my relief that it had a focus on mental illness and it did not over sensationalize.
About a week ago, a Twitter follower gave me a heads up about an upcoming episode on Law & Order SVU that appeared to mirror my story, at least the Vegas part. I saw a preview a few days back that reinforced what was coming. It was clear the episode revolved around a female Olympic pole vaulter who had been sexually assaulted while secretly escorting.
My inbox was filled the day the episode aired with messages asking me about it, whether I was consulted by the show’s producers, paid royalties, etc. I can tell you, this all came out of the blue to me. No involvement whatsoever. I also can tell you, I could not bring myself to watch the other night. Flat out, the whole thing triggered me heavily, and I had an especially rough evening on Wednesday fearing the worst. Never want to play victim, but I’m just telling you what the whole thing did to me, at least on Wednesday, and in the lead up. I’m not sure the show’s producers, writers and actors think of that kind of stuff.
Mark put it on DVR in case I wanted to see it, and last night, I did watch it. They flash in the intro, “The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person, entity or event.” Well that’s kind of laughable because, with the exception of the sexual assault and a couple minor modifications, it’s pretty much me out there. Olympian? Check. Track & Field athlete? Check. Married? Check. Mom? Check. Secretly escorting? Check. Bipolar? Check. Check it out online if you’re curious, as I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.
It’s strange to me that a show like this, a show I have watched before and actually tend to enjoy, can rip off a story so blatantly. I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of how all this works, but what I do know it that as I watched, it felt a little icky and sneaky. Like someone had broken into my life uninvited. My life, my most vulnerable time, and here it is being told on someone else’s terms, under the disguise that it’s not really me. As an individual from a NAMI chapter said on my twitter feed, “How terrible! Imagine having the most symptomatic point in your life dramatized on television. Keep your head up.” But for me, as you have seen, I don’t mind my story getting out there, but you have to remember, it’s MY story. I think I deserve to have at least some degree of control. Not here.
And reflecting on it, that’s really how much of this journey has been for me. With most any media, much of how you are portrayed or presented is not on your terms. Someone else, with their own agenda, presents their version of your story, on their terms. And when it’s as sensational as the Vegas part of my story is, you never do know what you’re going to get. How do they feel and know about escorting & sexuality, mental illness, double standard, etc.? You just never know.
Someone told me very early on after being outed, when you’re ready, tell your story, write a book, because it you don’t, someone else will. That struck a chord & if there was ever support for my reasoning why I wrote a book to tell my story, this is it. With my book, at least I was able to get it all out there mostly on my terms. With interviews, you try your best to tell your story on your terms. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and you’re largely at the mercy of someone with an agenda, sometimes on level with you, sometimes on a different planet.
I confess, the show itself wasn’t bad, aside from the questionable running form of the woman who played my part—lol. They did not demonize my character. They addressed bipolar disorder, and I would argue, are raising some degree of awareness in doing so (it looks like one of the regular characters was introduced as having bipolar as well and I assume it will be an ongoing element on the show), they did not really demonize escorting / prostitution like is done most often, and did shoot down a far too commonly held idea by society that you cannot rape an escort because they are somehow “asking for it.” They even touched on the idea that escorts have no incentive to go to police when problems happen for fear of arrest. They did, however, give the impression that you take a pill and you magically get well immediately which is anything but the way it really works, though I know they only have so much time in an episode. But anyway, mostly positive, and I’m thankful they went the route that didn’t over-sensationalize and take the customary shots & presentation of stereotypes. BUT, it still would be nice to tell my story on my terms, and not have a show hide behind a simple fact that they ripped off a story from the person who really should be the one who tells HER story. Mixed & confused emotions. Thanks for listening, and as always, for your compassion and understanding.