Law and Order: SVU - Out of Touch with Survivors?

The news of the long-running show's renewal for a 24th season comes poorly timed with profound backlash from fans and survivors alike, following the redemption arc of a serial predator.

Carly Horne
30th May 2022
Image Credit: IMDb
The news of the long-running show's renewal for a 24th season comes poorly timed with profound backlash from fans and survivors alike, following the redemption arc of a serial predator. For former-showrunner, Warren Leight, this was a complex look at the ways in which survivors process trauma. For survivors and long-time fans, the storyline was somuch more.

Content warning: grooming, sexual assault

Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) has been a focal character of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit since its premiere in 1999. Over the last 23 years, fans have had the privilege of watching her overcome extreme trauma and loss, coming out the other side as a fierce advocate for survivors and a highly respected member of the police force.

And Mariska Hargitay, too, has dedicated a large amount of her time to the cause - training as a rape crisis counsellor and founding an organisation to support the victims of a variety of kinds of assault and abuse, The Joyful Heart Foundation. A fierce supporter of Roe V Wade and a campaigner to clear the rape kit backlog in the USA - it has always been clear that Hargitay understood the importance of advocating for victims.

In spite of all of this great work, Hargitay is among members of the creative team under fire following the poor handling of a recent storyline.

During the 500th episode, Olivia Benson came to realise that her first love, Burton Lowe (Aiden Quinn), was in fact her groomer following a string of credible allegations against the popular writer. When she confronts him about the reality of their past relationship, he attempts to assault her.

In the penultimate episode of the season, Quinn's character returns with a desire to 'make amends' - step number 9 in his recovery from alcoholism. Then showrunner, Warren Leight, hoped to explore the role forgiveness plays in the ways we process our trauma.

This did not translate onto our screens.

Instead, a valid theme for exploration became triggering for loyal fans of the long-running drama - and the creative team aren't sorry.

Instead, a deleted tweet from the show's media team described the grooming dynamic between Olivia and Burton as a "relationship", leading to an angry response from the fans.

Deleted tweet: @LawandOrderTV

@ChriskaAnon on Twitter spoke of extensive coverage of the NBCUniversal Upfront event: "I can hear the song of @lawandordertv + @WolfEnt profiting off the stories of survivors while not listening to them [...] It's definitely off-key, particularly since the post you made about Burton Lowe & Olivia being in a 'relationship.' Deleting it doesn't erase the hurt caused."

Warren Leight is famously known for his aggressive and at the same time, dismissive approach to fans on Twitter. Though he himself was rather quiet on the platform, his retweets and likes suggested he didn't quite understand the point of view of fans affected by the storyline.

@Carrie_SaysHi on Twitter

Additionally, for someone so integral Benson's character development, both he and Julie Martin made the decision to have Olivia give Burton a head's up when another of Burton's victims come forward. Such a move goes beyond the emotional response to seeing her groomer and is directly in conflict with over two decades of what we know about her character.

Once more, NBC and the Law and Order media team were quiet - though it seems they had enough time to promote the shows in the days after.

So, is Law and Order: SVU out of touch with survivors?

Well, no. Because for over twenty years, Dick Wolf's most successful show has been giving a voice to survivors from all walks of lives. And the show has always tried to move with the times and to tackle difficult subjects - no one expects them to get it right all of the time.

What fans do expect, going forward, is to be acknowledged. They expect for Mariska Hargitay to be their voice in the creative process and for the show's next showrunner to listen to feedback.

Because it would be a real shame for a show which means so much to so many people, to end up cancelled after all of these years.

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