'Law & Order: SVU' Alum Blasts Series Following John Oliver's Criticism: I'm 'Embarrassed'

Following Sunday's episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver where the talk show host criticized Law & Order creator Dick Wolf for creating a pro-police franchise and fostering a close relationship with the New York Police Department, SVU alum Diane Neal is blasting the series. Neal, who played A.D.A. Casey Novak on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, said she is "embarrassed" to admit that she thought the show depicted any semblance of reality.

After the episode aired in which Oliver called the show an "ad for a defective product," Neal asked her followers on Twitter if SVU created "unrealistic expectations" of what a real-life sex crimes unit does when they reported one. A fan shared with Neal that they reported a sex crime, but police "made it obvious" they did not believe them. They never responded and they were told the case was transferred to a detective who hung up on them. "I never wished Olivia Benson was really more in my life," the Twitter user wrote, referring to the character Mariska Hargitay has played for over 20 years.

"I agree. If [Olivia Benson and SVU] were real, there would be a LOT more justice," Neal replied. "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." She included the hashtag "I am sorry." In another tweet, Neal thanked her followers for sharing their stories.

Oliver's Last Week Tonight piece cited a December 2021 report from The Appeal, calling on Hargitay to quit SVU if she really cares deeply about real sex crimes cases. The outlet spoke to five women who sought help from the NYPD after they were sexually assaulted and all five had a negative experience. They believe SVU is really a "disservice" to survivors of sexual assault by falsely depicting the NYPD's Special Victims Unit as a group of police officers who are good at solving sex crimes.

"Law & Order: SVU gave me the false impression that this squad cared deeply about victims and their jobs," writer Gina Tron, who reported a sexual assault in 2010, told The Appeal. "The show is nothing more than a fantasy, as an accurate dramatization of the unit would depict detectives sitting around the station disparaging rape victims in front of their peers and pressuring them to drop their cases so they could avoid doing work."

The Appeal accused Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation of promoting a false narrative that the backlog of tested rape kits exists because law enforcement does not have the funding to test them all or caused by reasons out of their control. In 2018, The Appeal argued that the "backlog" narrative allows law enforcement to shift responsibility for the problem.

"Mariska Hargitay has built a great career from Law and Order: SVU, and built a sterling reputation as a sexual assault advocate from her organization, the Joyful Heart Foundation," JL, who reported a sexual assault to the NYPD in 2012, told The Appeal. "Unfortunately, the actual sexual assault advocacy community has had the misfortune of seeing what lies beneath the Hollywood veneer of the Joyful Heart Foundation, its consultants, and its founder."

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On Last Week Tonight, Oliver admitted that Law & Order could not depict reality if it wanted to remain entertaining, but he called out Wolf for his cooperation with the NYPD. The show can give people a false sense of how the police and prosecutors work. "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.

At the end of his piece, Oliver told viewers that Law & Order would never depict the reality of the justice system, just like Grey's Anatomy is never an accurate representation of how a hospital works. The franchise is "presenting a world where the cops can always figure out who did it, defense attorneys are irritating obstacles to be overcome, and even if a cop roughs up a suspect, it's all in pursuit of a just outcome," the comedian said.