On Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the host took aim at an unlikely target: not a politician or big corporation, but the long-running NBC TV franchise Law & Order. Oliver looked at a December 2021 report from The Appeal, which led to calls for star Mariska Hargitay to quit Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The actor, who founded the nonprofit Joyful Heart Foundation, is closely associated with activism on behalf of sexual assault victims, but the report from The Appeal alleges that, like Law & Order, the Joyful Heart Foundation advances a false narrative that paints law enforcement as hyper-vigilant and hyper-competent when it comes to sex crimes.
On Twitter, former series star Diane Neal asked her followers whether they felt SVU created "unrealistic expectations," and found that a lot of fans did, and some had specific examples of being ignored by the police.
"I agree. If [Olivia Benson and SVU] were real, there would be a LOT more justice," Neal replied. "I'm embarrassed to admit, I used to think the way it worked on the show was like real life. Then I found out the hard way I was wrong. Thank you for sharing the story of your real experience." Neal hashtagged the response with "I am sorry," and in another tweet, she thanked her followers for sharing their stories.
In the report from The Appeal, five different women who took sexual assault allegations to the New York Police Department (the subjects of Law & Order: SVU) related their experiences, suggesting that they were not taken seriously. Joyful Heart Foundation repeats New York Police Department talking points that suggest a large backlog backlog of used but untested rape kits are only there because there isn't enough funding to process the tests.
You can see Oliver's look at the Law & Order franchise below.
"Mariska Hargitay has built a great career from Law and Order: SVU, and built a sterling reputation as a sexual assault advocate from her organization, the Joyful Heart Foundation," JL, who reported a sexual assault to the NYPD in 2012, told The Appeal. "Unfortunately, the actual sexual assault advocacy community has had the misfortune of seeing what lies beneath the Hollywood veneer of the Joyful Heart Foundation, its consultants, and its founder."
There is the issue of keeping the show interesting and entertaining, of course. During his episode, Oliver acknowledged that if the show was mostly people sitting around checking computer records and making phone calls, it wouldn't have been on TV for so long. Still, producer Dick Wolf's relationship with the NYPD ensures that there is virtually no criticism of the organization within the context of the Law & Order shows.
"Instead of depicting a flawed system riddled with structural racism, the show presents exceptionally competent cops working within a largely fair framework that mostly convicts white people," Oliver said.10comments