The Treatment of Male vs Female Perps on SVU
Dick Wolf’s Law and Order: SVU remains one of the most popular procedural crime dramas on television and SVU is especially popular for dealing with “heinous sexual crimes” with storylines sometimes grabbed straight from the headlines. For the purpose of examining the difference in portrayal of men and women as perpetrators on the show, here I discuss two specific episodes from Season 18.
Episode 10, which is entitled ‘Motherly Love’, is actually one of the handful of episodes on SVU that depicts a Black man as a victim. In fact, many critics of the show have commented that both men and women of color are either poorly represented or only shown through crime scene photographs and on the show. In this episode, Luke Keller returns home to what appears to be his mother being raped by his best friend, Trey Franklin. In a panic, Luke shoots Trey as his mother calls out for help.
In the episode ‘Making a Rapist’, the NYPD reveals they have newly tested DNA evidence that exonerates Sean Roberts of a rape conviction he has been serving for 16 years. However, he becomes the suspect of the horrific rape and murder of the daughter of the woman he was alleged of raping 16 years prior. It is later revealed that he is indeed guilty.
In the episode involving the female perpetrator, the SVU detectives try to comfort Nicole Keller and her son as they ask questions about the way the alleged rape took place. By contrast, the episode where a man who is exonerated of rape by DNA evidence is treated with suspicion by the SVU detectives before the incident even occurs - with the implication that despite scientific evidence the police were right about his culpability. This implication is solidified in the episode as it becomes clear that Sean Roberts indeed raped and murdered Ashley Benson in a fit of rage when she rejected his proposal.
In trying to get Sean Roberts to confess, the detectives also display a casual disregard for his civil rights. For instance, in one scene they follow him home from his car to question him - quite threateningly, I might add. In the episode involving Nicole Keller, it is later revealed that she was actually sexually assaulting Trey Franklin and other boys at her son's school. However, I find it interesting that once SVU detectives suspect her, they do not refer to her as a monster in the way they do Roberts but emphasize that she is a bad mother and try to pathologize her behavior.