Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
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Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999–present) is a long-running crime drama, part of the popular Law & Order franchise created by Dick Wolf. The show focuses on the Special Victims Unit, a special squad dealing with sex crimes and crimes against children.
- Narrator: In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories.
About Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
"Last Week Tonight with John Oliver", (September 11, 2022)
- [G]enerally, the thesis on SVU is that the cops deeply care about getting justice for victims, and their gut instincts mean they almost always get the job done in the end. In one episode, we learn that Stabler has a 97% case closure rate.
- Government and press reports have repeatedly shown that New York’s actual sex crimes unit is set up to fail victims of sexual assault. Because its case closure rate is a long way from Elliot Stabler’s 97%. The NYPD’s official figures show they only close about a third of sexual-assault cases. But one analysis of cases handled over a two-year period found a closure rate of just 6%. And a damning 2018 investigation into New York’s SVD quoted multiple prosecutors describing improper handling of cases by overloaded or inexperienced investigators, who until recently were only given five days of formal specialized training. Is it any wonder that some cops are watching SVU for tips?
- [I]t’s worth knowing: some survivors have spoken about what it’s like seeing these detectives valorized on tv, with one saying, Law & Order: SVU gave me the false impression that this squad cared deeply about victims and their jobs, and another saying, “if I had a dollar for every time I heard, ‘this can’t be true. Olivia Benson would never let this happen!’ I would have enough to cover my hospital bills and therapy for my trauma.” And you should know: even the real-world version of the tenacious, uncompromising Olivia Benson, and the show’s tough ADA, Alexandra Cabot, has a significant asterisk, because a major inspiration for both characters is Linda Fairstein, the woman infamous for prosecuting the Central Park Five, or as they’re now known, the Exonerated Five.
- [I]t’s completely understandable to want Olivia Benson to exist. But it is important to remember just how far it is from representing anything resembling reality.
"“What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger:” The Fallacy of Rape Narratives as Paths to Women’s Empowerment in Contemporary Television" (2020)
- The longest-running live-action prime time television show of all time deals exclusively with topics that have historically been ignored as being a ubiquitous part of America’s culture: sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and child abuse. Law & Order’s (Wolf, 1990–2010) sex-crimes-focused spin-off does not shy away from such topics but shines a light on them while keeping the victims of these crimes and the always-sympathetic Captain Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) at the forefront of every narrative. Hargitay was so inspired by the series that she became an activist, founding the Joyful Heart Foundation for survivors of sexual violence and working to end the backlog of rape kits throughout the US. She views SVU as “a longtime force for positive change” (Barcella),and many others who work or have worked on the series in the last two decades agree with her. Episodes do not simply dramatize sexual violence; they are “laden with real-life lessons about consent, domestic violence, and the psychological impacts of sexual assault,” which is why the creative team behind SVU“ see their show partly as a vehicle for education” (Minich, 5). Procedural detective dramas have historically been “the primary masculine television genre, with a predominantly male audience” (Cuklanz, 19); SVU’s audience, however, is “made up mostly of women” (Minich, 5) because it depicts a world in which the United States judicial system takes sexual violence seriously. Critics have argued that the way the show portrays how the justice system treats survivors is “the heart of the show’s appeal” (Minich, 5).
- SVU has consistently made an effort “to keep pace with the times” (Minich, 5), and has always incorporated the latest theory on sexual assault—from changing their language to refer to “victims” as “survivors,” to having the detectives participate in trauma-informed interviews with survivors in their latest season, which acknowledges that people’s memories are affected by trauma. Trauma-informed interviews allow survivors to focus on the memories that their senses provide—for example, what they heard, smelled, etc.—to give a description of what happened to them, rather than try to remember specific details which is often difficult for someone to do after experiencing trauma. These interviews affect not only the answers the survivors give the detectives on the show, but also how their trauma is portrayed on-screen.
- SVU has always believed survivors. The show has debunked rape myths—such as sex workers cannot be assaulted, someone cannot be raped by their partner, consent is not reversible, and countless others—for over twenty years by having their detectives and prosecutors always believe the survivors who come to them. Such commitment to survivors makes it no wonder why the show is so popular with them. Additionally, the series helps viewers learn the signs and attributes of sexual violence, proving Cuklanz’s point that because rape is discussed so infrequently in American society, “film, serial prime time television, and television talk shows have been more useful in making rape reform ideas available to a mainstream audience”.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 1
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 2
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 3
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 4
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 5
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 6
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 7
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 8
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 9
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 10
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 11
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 12
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 13
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 14
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 15
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 16
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 17
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 18
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 19
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 20
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 21
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 22
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/Season 23
- Christopher Meloni - Detective Elliot Stabler (1999-2011, 2020)
- Mariska Hargitay - Captain Olivia Benson (1999-present)
- Danny Pino - Detective Nick Amaro (2011-2015)
- Richard Belzer - Detective/Sergeant John Munch (1999-2014)
- Michelle Hurd - Detective Monique Jeffries (2000)
- Ice T -Sergeant Odafin "Fin" Tutuola (2000-present)
- Kelli Giddish - Detective Amanda Rollins (2011-present)
- Adam Beach - Detective Chester Lake (2007-2008)
- Dann Florek - Captain Donald Cragen (1999-2014)
- Stephanie March - ADA Alexandra Cabot (2000-2003, 2009, 2011-present)
- B.D. Wong - Dr. George Huang (2002-2011)
- Diane Neal - ADA Casey Novak (2003-2008, 2011-present)
- Tamara Tunie - Dr. Melinda Warner (2005-present)
- Michaela McManus - ADA Kim Greylek (2008)
- Raúl Esparza - ADA Rafael Barba (2012-2018)
- Peter Scanavino- Detective Dominick "Sonny" Carisi, Jr. (2014-present)
- Jamie Gray Hyder - Detective Katriona "Kat" Tamin (2018-2021)