Law & Order: SVU alum blasts the show over false narrative

Diane Neal thinks SVU creates unrealistic expectations for real-life sex crime victims

Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson in Law & Order: SVU

Former Law & Order: SVU actress Diane Neal has realized “the hard way” that the NBC series’ depiction of law enforcement gives real-life sex crime victims unrealistic expectations that the police will actually care about and solve their cases.

Law & Order: SVU and its false narrative

After watching last Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver ― in which the host discussed a report from The Appeal alleging that Law & Order: SVU advances a false narrative that paints law enforcement as hyper-competent when it comes to sex crimes, Neal took to Twitter to ask her followers whether they felt the TV show created unrealistic expectations for real-life sex crime victims.

Neal’s tweet got multiple replies and the actress found out from different people ― who were personally ignored by the police ― that the way the protagonists solve crimes in the show is far from what’s happening in real life.

In a reply to a fan who wished the show’s main character, Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), was a real person, Neal wrote: “I agree. If #OliviaBenson #svu were real, there would be a LOT more justice. I’m embarrassed to admit, I used to think the way it worked on the show was like real life. Then I found out the hard way I was wrong. Thank you for sharing the story of your real experience. #iamsorry.”

While Neal didn’t directly criticize Law & Order: SVU in her tweets over false narrative, the fact that she thinks the show is unrealistic says a lot about what she feels about it now.

Neal played the role of New York Assistant District Attorney Casey Novak in the series from 2003 to 2008 and from 2011 to 2012.

Diane Neal as Casey Novak in Law & Order: SVU
Diane Neal as Casey Novak in Law & Order: SVU

The Appeal’s December 2021 report

In its December 2021 report about Law & Order: SVU and the New York City Police Department (NYPD), The Appeal was calling Harbitay to quit the series, calling her and everyone involved in the show “complicit in what is likely the single worst piece of pro-police propaganda produced over the last few decades.”

While the show depicts NYPD officers as hyper-vigilant when it comes to sex crime, The Appeal wrote that the real-life “NYPD has notoriously neglected its sex crimes unit for years, leading to miserable outcomes for victims. In recent years, detectives with New York City’s Special Victims Division have repeatedly discouraged victims from moving forward with their cases, failed to collect basic video and DNA evidence, and have, on more than one occasion, bungled a rape case so badly that alleged attackers went on to attack several more women.”

Backed with first-hand testimonies from sexual assault victims, the report also criticized Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation which claims to be fighting to end the backlog of untested rape kits sitting in police departments across the United States.

According to The Appeal, “Joyful Heart propagates the false narrative that the so-called backlog exists because law enforcement needs more funding to test rape kits. While it’s true that there are many untested rape kits across the United States, they are mostly untested because police did not send the DNA kits to a lab for testing. Money isn’t the issue — police choosing not to test crucial DNA evidence is.”

John Oliver on The Appeal’s report

In last Sunday’s episode Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the host acknowledged the fact that Law & Order: SVU won’t be entertaining if it was mostly about people sitting around checking computer records and making phone calls. Oliver, however, pointed out that the show rarely criticizes the NYPD or the country’s law enforcement organization as a whole.

“Instead of depicting a flawed system riddled with structural racism, the show presents exceptionally competent cops working within a largely fair framework that mostly convicts white people,” Oliver said of the police procedural series.

Law & Order: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
Sources:, The Appeal
If you buy something from a GEEKSPIN link, we may earn a commission