No one denies the immense appeal of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which has reliably churned out new episodes since its 1999 debut. But like any massively successful franchise, the show falls into all sorts of predictable SVU cliches. As is the case with other popular crime shows, you can expect to find predictable SVU plots almost every other episode. And if it isn't doling out outrageous storylines, SVU gives you flat-out lies about how law enforcement actually runs. For most fans, the show's banality is something they've grown to love. While many episodes feature engaging plot twists and juicy mysteries, the cliches are unavoidable.
Law & Order: SVU may not be the only show guilty of procedural cop show tropes, but it certainly is one of the most prolific.
Rape Kits Are Tested Immediately
While SVU gets some things right, plenty of it is pretty inaccurate – that's to be expected when you have one hour to witness, investigate, and solve a crime. Unfortunately, one thing SVU gets extra wrong is rape kit testing. Medical professionals use rape kits to collect DNA evidence left behind by an attacker on their victim, a process that takes hours; they then store the evidence in the kit. On SVU, kits are tested promptly. In reality, there's a backlog on testing rape kits due to a shortage of funds and a lack of universal guidelines for law enforcement when it comes to logging the kits. The backlog of untested rape kits in the US could number in the hundreds of thousands.
This creates additional problems for victims. For many, they have no proof of the attack without the DNA evidence, so if their kit gets backlogged, then the attacker does not get caught. Not being able to seek justice to their attacker due to lack of evidence only exacerbates trauma.
One very vocal proponent of rape kit testing happens to be none other than Mariska Hargitay, SVU's Olivia Benson. She was unaware of how much of a problem untested rape kits are herself. Thanks to her own correspondence with real-life victims of assault, Hargitay made a documentary entitled I Am Evidence, which brings attention to the rape kit backlog.
Husbands Are Always Up To No Good
SVU might leave you a bit paranoid about marriage and your spouse. There are plenty of examples throughout the show’s run of husbands behaving horribly. Season 8's “Burned” focuses on a woman who accuses her husband of rape. However, the police are unconvinced by the woman’s story. They let the man go, and he returns home and sets his wife on fire.
On the episode “Annihilated” from Season 8, a man cheats on his wife with a mistress whom he ends up murdering. The man tells his mistress he's in the CIA, which is why he's such a private person. In reality, he's married with three children, all of whom he also murders. He later explains to police that he had to kill them because they would not have survived him going to jail.
On Season 3's “Monogamy,” a man finds out his pregnant wife has been cheating on him. While that’s certainly reason for a divorce, separation, or at least marriage counseling, this husband has other ideas. He is so consumed with bitterness and jealousy over his wife’s cheating that he cuts the baby out of her.
Episodes Have Annoying Ambiguous Endings
At times when dealing with hot-button topics, SVU leaves the ending open for viewers to wonder whether a person is innocent or guilty. This can be infuriating because you don’t know the outcome, something you want and expect from a mostly episodic show. One such episode from Season 6, “Doubt,” does just that. In this episode, a graduate student accuses a professor of rape, but the professor insists their encounter was consensual. The detectives go back and forth with their own opinions on the case, with Benson believing the student’s story and Stabler siding with the professor.
At the end of the show, a juror reads, “We find the defendant...” and before hearing whether the professor is innocent or guilty, the end credits roll.
Pretty Much All Of The Websites Are Fake
Since the show films in the Digital Age, it comes as no surprise that many SVU cases revolve around the internet. Because of copyright laws, the show can't popular website names such as Google or Facebook. Instead, they invent their websites, which often border on parody. For instance, Season 11's "Quickie" includes a storyline where a person's Face Union page is hacked. Season 12 features an episode called "Bullseye," in which characters use a website called Perv Pointer in place of the sex offender registry.
Other times, the show creates unique websites of their own to go along with their storylines. A Season 6 episode entitled "Brotherhood" features an adult site called the Rack Menagerie. And then there's Russian Swans, a fake Russian mail-order bride website featured in the Season 13 episode "Russian Brides."