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Endorsement of Rape Myths in Prosecutors and Police Interactions with Victims of Sexual Violence: A Mixed-Methods Content Analysis of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Open Access

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This study of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, one of the longest running television shows in history to date, examines media portrayals of sexual assault on primetime TV by focusing on how the show interacts with misconceptions of what is considered rape and sexual assault. Based on quantitative and qualitative data drawn from a detailed content analysis of episodes that originally aired between September 2017 and May 2018 (N=17), this study focuses on issues pertaining to police officers and prosecutors on SVU and their perceptions regarding rape mythology to determine what rape myths, if any, were depicted. Particular attention is paid to victim credibility and victim blame in the context of rape mythology. As a result, five rape myths were identified in the majority of the episodes observed, further diffusing a distorted social construction of what constitutes “real” rape. Final reflections detail the reality of sexual assault and rape, and the repercussions of rape myths both on primetime crime dramas and in real-life.

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