But the actor who played her says she’s since realized that TV doesn’t reflect reality.
Diane Neal recently invited
her social media followers to find out if the show was giving viewers the wrong impression of how law enforcement is handling sex crimes – a discussion sparked by a recent episode
from “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.” (CNN and HBO, which broadcast the satirical show, share parent company Warner Bros. Discovery).
“I’m ashamed to admit, I always thought the way it worked on the show was like real life. Then I found out the hard way that I was wrong,” Neal tweeted
, responding to one person who said they felt the police did not believe them when they came forward about their attack. “Thanks for sharing the story of your real experience. #iamsorry.”
When another person told her that the sexual assault victims they knew all regretted reporting their assault, Neal replied
: “I feel that 100%.”
Focusing on the hugely popular spin-off from the latest episode of “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver said the show’s unrealistic portrayal of how law enforcement responds to sex crimes amounted to propaganda.
On “Law & Order: SVU,” which depicts a New York City Police Department specializing in sex crimes, police typically arrest the correct perpetrator and quickly collect and process DNA evidence. The prosecutors, in turn, take the cases to court and convict the perpetrators. Case closed.
The reality is very different. A internal NYPD investigation
in 2018, the department criticized its handling of sexual assault cases. According to the report, detectives and police officers often responded insensitive or dismissive to victims of sexual assault, while victims were rarely kept informed of the status of their cases.
of investigators from RTI International last year found that the NYPD struggled to interview and arrest suspects — while detectives identified suspects in 82% of sexual assault cases, suspects were questioned only 28% of the time, according to the report. That study also found that researchers closed a majority of sex crime cases by indicating that lines of inquiry were “exhausted,” although in many of those cases, researchers found missed opportunities for follow-up.
A representative of Dick Wolf, creator of “Law & Order,” did not respond to a request for comment.
At least one other actor from the show has a different take on the matter. In a 2020 special
Mariska Hargitay, who plays detective Olivia Benson, celebrates the long-running “SVU” and spoke about the positive impact the show had on survivors of sexual assault.
“So many times I have come across people who said because of this show that they knew what to do after their assault. Because of this show, they had a rape set made. Because of this show, they reported it and they believed in it.” And thanks to this show, they didn’t feel alone anymore,” she said.
Others have argued that “Law & Order” and police procedures in general should not be expected to reflect reality precisely because they are fictional — a point Oliver acknowledged on his show. But Research
has shown that audiences who watch crime dramas are “more likely to believe that the police are successful in reducing crime, use force only when necessary, and that misconduct usually does not lead to false confessions.”
“I know ‘Law & Order’ is just a TV show. I know it’s for entertainment, and frankly I’m not even telling you not to watch it,” Oliver said. “But it’s important to remember how far it is from anything resembling reality.”