Jun 052020

“Slaves” aired May 19, 2000 IMDB

“Slaves” treads some of the same ground as “Stocks & Bondage”, earlier in the first season, as the primary antagonist is a man who psychologically controls multiple women. In this case, there is no financial element to the crimes. 

A street vendor turns in a note asking for help from an unknown woman. The detectives track down the woman named in the note, the aunt of a Romanian immigrant woman, Elena. It would have ended there, but the aunt turns up murdered. 

Detectives Munch and Stabler grill Morrow

The detectives find Elena working as a nanny for a wealthy couple, the Morrows, a controlling businessman and his drug-abusing veterinarian wife. The women live in terror of him, and robotically repeat phrases like, “Sexuality is about reaching our limits and transcending them.” or “that woman… threatened our routine.”

The veterinarian confesses to murdering the aunt. When the police raid the house, they arrest Morrow in the middle of burning pictures of Elena being “tortured.” They also find a hidden locked closet full of torture and bondage equipment. Elena herself is nowhere to be found. 

In interrogation, Morrow is smug and condescending to Detective Benson (a woman). Her partner, Stabler, plays Morrow man-to-man, saying he’s been trying to “break” her. Morrow recommends “the rack” and talks about the problems of cutting off circulation. 

Morrow: “It has to be consensual. Like it is with Elena.”

That’s all they get before Morrow’s lawyer arrives. The detectives try to get a full search warrant to completely search the Morrow house, but run into problems with the judge. 

Judge: “Please. New York is the home of more discipline and bondage shops than you can crack a whip at. Whips and chains do not necessarily denote non-consensual acts.”

Assistant DA: “Are you kidding me, your honor? I mean, any idiot can see that this woman is clearly being held against her–”

Judge: “You are very close to contempt, counsel.”

Assistant DA: “Judge, we need to get into this apartment.”

Judge: “You don’t have probable cause. But you want me to give you a warrant so you can get probable cause, is that it? Nice try.”

The detectives question the wife again, who is in hospital withdrawing from ketamine. 

Dr. Morrow: “He disciplined her. He helped her learn.”

They say Morrow is a threat to his adopted daughter as well. 

Stabler: “You know he can’t let that closet stay empty.” 

This makes her break down. 

Dr. Morrow: “He was so good to me at first. And then he started asking me to do things.”

Benson: “So he let him hurt you.”

Dr. Morrow: “I wanted to escape so many times but I was so afraid for our daughter.”

Benson: “So you stayed, hoping that things would change. But they didn’t, did they?”

Stabler: “Until he abducted Elena.”

Dr. Morrow: “He said it was so perfect. A woman just in the United States. Nobody would even know she existed. He kept her chained in the closet for the first six months.”

Benson: “Except to rape and torture her.”

Dr. Morrow: “You have no idea what I went through.”

Stabler: “That’s why you never did anything for Elena. Has he stopped doing it to you?”

Stabler and Detective Munch interrogate Morrow by chipping away at his sense of control over the women in his life, prompting an outburst. 

Morrow: “I control Elena! She doesn’t eat, sleep or urinate without my permission! I control her. I do.”

The detectives go to the Morrow house and find a secret compartment under the master bed. This includes a coffin-like box containing Elena. 

Elena: “Tell him I didn’t do anything. I didn’t make a sound, I swear. I didn’t do anything.” 

Whereas “Stocks & Bondage” drew a distinction between consensual BDSM and abuse, “Slaves” has less nuance. Morrow claims consent and his wife uses phrases that could be from BDSM. 

Undeniably, there are plenty of real-world cases of abusers within BDSM communities and/or who use BDSM concepts as a defense. (This episode resembles the abduction and imprisonment of Colleen Stan.) But there’s no exploration of the difference between consensual BDSM and the abuse of the Morrow household. The only exception is the judge’s statement that “Whips and chains do not necessarily denote non-consensual acts.” The police officers view this as an obstacle that endangers the victim and helps the perpetrator. 

Police officers probably would be more concerned with finding a missing and abused woman than the constitutional rights of kinky people. This demonstrates the limits of law enforcement dramas as vehicles for exploration of social issues. (See also.)

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