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A Disabled Girl’s Guide to Law & Order: SVU

Trigger warning: sexual assault & rape.

“In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. Duh Duh!”

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU for short) is probably my favorite show. For those of you living under a rock, SVU is a crime show about the sex crimes division of the NYPD; their cases include sexual assault, rape, children/pedophilia and murder-type jawns. Benson and her squadrents almost always catch the bad guy. There can be an intense court case too, if I’m lucky, with the boss District Attorneys. 

Every episode starts like this: the quote above begins each episode (obviously I know it by heart.) The victim is always found in a dramatized opening scene and Olivia’s day is ruined when she hangs up her cellphone. The squad then heads to the crime scene — and it’s always at some place I’ve been before in the city … not mad I haven’t seen them shoot or anything … — and the show carries on from there. The reason I came to Barnard with the hopes of being a Neuroscience major (LMAO) is because I wanted to be a specialist on cases like these. I dropped Neuro, but maybe I still will be as a Poli Sci/boss ass lawyer in the future. Only time will tell.

However, the more I watch this show, the more I unconsciously focus on some of the ways to avoid my own fate — so that I don’t end up like a victim in the sex crimes division. I will still fangirl at the chases and legal aspects, but I also want to be as aware as possible about the world of sex crimes. As a young woman, with a physical disability, attending college in the great city of New York, sexual assault and unwanted attention is something I am forced to think about 24/7, 364 days of the year (the exception being Christmas, but even that day has its worries). 

I don’t want to give myself the identity of an easy target, but it would not be difficult, if I am being honest. I cannot run, my lower body strength is shot to hell and that self-defense class I took for PE credit was a joke. Yes, I have the upper body strength of an Olympic weightlifter (thanks to the ERG machine) and I can scream bloody-mary, but how much can that really do? That is why I look to Law and Order: SVU. It, of course, cannot tell me everything there is to know about safety in the city, but I think there is some sound advice. I even met Mariska Hargitay when she came to the Athena Film Festival 2017 and she told me they use outside professional consultants and detectives when shooting and directing the show. So, yes, I watch this show to look for advice for safety and representation.

Should a television show be my only source? Probably not, and nor is it, but I respect SVU regardless. To be honest, and bringing in disability in as usual, there are not many shows that include crimes against disabled victims, and that, to me, is a key factor to add to a show about crimes based on real events. We need representation in all forms and platforms, even the not-so-fun ones. How am I supposed to grasp the idea that even disabled people can fall victim if I can’t see it portrayed on the longest running (21 seasons baby) live primetime American series? 

It’s not that I want to see disabled people victimized and abused, but it is nice to be included. I do truly believe the writers and directors at Law and Order: SVU do an excellent job creating storylines that are close to real life problems for disabled people in terms of sex crimes and abuse. I don’t just mean that it happens to us too, but even including every detail that comes with such a heavy and difficult topic. Not being believed, lack of resources, close relativity to the suspect, actual ability issues, etc. I have yet to watch an episode that had a disabiled victim that I wasn’t impressed by the episode progression and/or character development.

So yes, you will see me in my room, Law and Order: SVU on Hulu, chanting the opening statement and taking mental notes almost every Thursday night. It’s ingrained into my schedule at this point. I will admit to being a complete SVU nerd — and a bigger nerd than Taylor Swift — but take that with a grain of salt. I will always fear for my safety and use this show as a safety blanket. And, please help me fight to bring Law and Order: SVU to Columbia’s campus so I can have my fantasy become a reality: being one of the dramatic people discovering the victim.

Jaelyn Wingard

Columbia Barnard '22

Jaelyn is a junior at Barnard College as a Political Science and Human Rights double major. She spends 95% of her time talking about how accessibility needs to be better and/or fantasizing about being the next RBG of disabilities. If you want to know just how bad accessibility is, or any random information about her half-bilingualism, feel free to email her at [email protected] or Facebook
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