Why I hate L&O:SVU

Betacandy wrote a post last week praising an episode of Law & Order: CI, and within the comments I mentioned that I have deep misgivings about the Special Victims branch of the franchise, which focusses on (what else?) sex crimes.

It’s not so much that a show entirely about sexual violence (or violence with sexual elements) almost inevitably becomes focussed on and driven by the shock value of just how sick some people can be–though that’s certainly true, and a part of it. More damaging, to me, is the fact that, just as House demonstrated a few weeks ago, these professionals who should theoretically be extremely well trained in dealing with survivors don’t seem to know a damn thing about it. They regularly do any or all of the following things in a given episode:

  • Suggest to the victim or to their fellow detectives that despite witness reports of having seen the victim arguing or fighting with a man prior to her alleged assault, that man may have been her boyfriend or an acquaintance (as if those people are never rapists)
  • Disbelieve the victim, invoking such myths as “Maybe she just had one too many and woke up with the wrong guy, so she decided to call it rape in retrospect”.
  • Tell a survivor that it’s her responsibility to report the rape to the police in order to protect other women from being assaulted in the future
  • Tell the victim’s family, friends or boyfriend about her having been assaulted without that woman’s permission or even knowledge.

It’s not inconceivable that a survivor would be treated this way by bad police officers in real life, but I would very much appreciate it if these ideas were subjected to some criticism from within the show. Instead, we’re supposed to see the detectives, particularly Benson and Stabler, as beleaguered warriors in the fight for good. Many survivors express that going to the police and possibly, ultimately, to court, is akin to being assaulted over and over, both because of the requirement to describe it repeatedly and because of belittling, disbelieving, and victim-blaming treatment that they receive. SVU has the potential to dismantle myths surrounding sexual violence, and it chooses to reinforce them instead.

In addition, of course, we see plenty of examples of faked rapes and even “false memory syndrome”, plus victims’ advocates or rape crisis counsellors are portrayed as either naive, overly trusting bleeding hearts, or angry feminists who hate men in general. I’ve given up on watching it, even as background noise.


  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    That certainly matches the impression I have of SVU from the few episodes I’ve seen. Oddly, I don’t think the original show or CI handle it this badly – maybe because rapes are not as common on those shows, the writers are a bit more cautious.


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