Prosecutor Casey Novak has a strong track record. Over many seasons of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” the tough and persistent assistant district attorney convicts dozens of sex offenders and brings justice to their victims.
But the actor who played her says she’s since realized that television doesn’t reflect reality.
Diane Neal recently guest its social media followers to determine whether the show gave viewers the wrong impression of how law enforcement handles sex crimes – a discussion that was sparked by a recent episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”. (CNN and HBO, which airs the satirical show, share parent company Warner Bros. Discovery).
“I’m embarrassed to admit it, I used to think 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 a person who said she felt like the police didn’t believe her when she reported her assault. “Thank you for sharing the story of your real life experience. #I apologize.”
When another person told her that the victims of sexual assault she knew all regretted reporting their assault, Neal replied: “I feel that 100%.”
John Oliver took aim at the massively popular fallout from the latest episode of “Last Week Tonight,” saying the show’s unrealistic portrayals of how law enforcement responds to sex crimes amounted to propaganda.
In “Law & Order: SVU,” which depicts a New York City Police Department special force that deals with sex crimes, the police usually arrest the right 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 quite different. A 2018 internal NYPD investigation criticized the department’s handling of sexual assault cases. Due to insufficient staff, training and workload, according to the report, detectives and police often responded insensitively or dismissively to victims of sexual assault, while victims were rarely informed of the status of their case.
Another study by researchers at RTI International last year found that the NYPD struggled to interview and apprehend suspects – while detectives identified suspects in 82% of sexual assault cases, suspects did not were interviewed only 28% of the time, according to the report. This study also found that investigators closed the majority of sex crime cases citing that investigative leads had been “exhausted,” although in many of these cases investigators determined there were missed follow-up opportunities.
A representative for “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf did not respond to a request for comment.
At least one other actor on the show has another take on the matter. In a 2020 special celebrating longtime “SVU,” Mariska Hargitay, who plays Detective Olivia Benson, spoke about the positive impact the show has had on survivors of sexual assault.
“I’ve met so many times people who said that because of this show, they knew what to do after they were assaulted. Because of this show, they had a rape kit made. Because of this show, they reported and believed in it. And thanks to this show, above all, they no longer felt alone,” she said.
Others have argued that “Law & Order” and police procedurals in general shouldn’t reflect reality precisely because they’re 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, only use force when necessary and that misconduct generally does not lead to misconduct. confession”.
“I know ‘Law & Order’ is just a TV show. I know it’s meant to be entertainment, and honestly, I’m not even telling you not to watch it,” Oliver said. But it’s important to remember how far it is from representing anything resembling reality.”