"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."
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month - a time when we observe and recognize the terrible pattern of sexual violence in our country. One tv show have done more to raise awareness of these issues more than any other - Law and Order Special Victims Unit (SVU).
Premiering in September 1999, SVU is a weekly, hour-long drama on NBC that follows the detectives and District Attorney of Manhattan's Special Victims Unit - a division of the New York Police Department that focuses on sex crimes. The show starred Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson for its first twelve seasons until the former left the cast, unable to come to an agreement on his contract.
Stabler, Benson and the other members of the SVU team have seen it all - rape, sexual assault, child molestation... you name it. They are the butt-kicking team that tracks down criminals, all while posing interesting questions. SVU has continuously made me think about the definition of "violence", "rape" and "sexual deviant." What is it that drives someone to become violent? What are the motivators to rape? And where do you draw the line on someone who has inflicted physical and mental anguish on another human being.
Typically, at least one character on SVU becomes emotionally entangled with the story. This allows the show's writers to highlight each case from multiple viewpoints, and forces the viewer to consider different perspectives. In it's 14 year run, SVU has been able to highlight the often "untold stories" of rape and sexual assault, including storylines surrounding transgendered individuals, men raped by women, stalking, and sex trafficking.
Off the set, the cast and crew continue to raise awareness for rape and sexual assault prevention. For example, Mariska Hargitay has been a strong activist for victims' services, founding the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 which provides support to survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence.She also campaigned for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has been nominated for and won numerous awards, including the 2006 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Hargitay, the first Emmy to be received by a regular on any Law & Order series. The show has made Americans more comfortable with the vernacular of sexual assault. It has brought awareness to an issue that effects millions, and has shown them that there is a path to justice, and options for recovery.