Violence Against Women in Law and Order: SVU

by | January 2, 2010
filed under Feminism, Pop Culture

Last week I posted this link by Lisa Schmeiser at BitchMedia on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

The post at Bitch provoked a bit of discussion that mirrored the feminist controversy surrounding the show and similar crime dramas over the past few years. Last week I promised to weigh in in greater detail so I’m going to condense the results of some undergraduate research I presented at a conference in 2007 (The same year I tackled heterosexism in March of the Penguins) on representations of violence against women in Law and Order: SVU.

My goal here is not to suck the fun out of a show you like, but to point out why we need to care about the messages we get from popular culture and to encourage reflection.

*Note: some stats may be slightly out of date

Introduction – Why Care about TV Representations?

SVU Perspectives

Methodology

I’d been a fan of the show since its inception, but I decided to take a deeper look at its messages. To investigate the arguments made by feminist scholars and the show’s creators I undertook content analysis of a random sample of episodes, two each from from Seasons 1 through 7, omitting episodes that did not deal with violence against women.

Results

Content analysis showed that both the feminist scholars who critiqued the show and the community organizations who praise it make valid points.

SVU as Postfeminist:

SVU as Progressive:

Conclusion

Law and Order: SVU treads a fine line between postfeminist and progressive representations of violence against women. With at least 1.2 million women raped each year in the US alone, we need to question the types of messages in shows like SVU that focus almost entirely on similar crimes.


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