Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"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. These are their stories."


The first spin-off of the Law & Order franchise. Like the original, the show features detectives investigating crimes and attorneys prosecuting the offenders. Changes in scene are marked by black screens stating the place and date, as well as the franchise's trademark "chung chung" noise. However, SVU focuses more on the detectives and less on the attorneys, whereas the original show usually shifts from the investigation to the prosecution at the halfway point.

The SVU detectives investigate sex crimes, usually rapes, rape-homicides, and various forms of child abuse. The voiceover at the beginning identifies such crimes as "especially heinous," and the show often focuses on the characters' struggle to deal with unspeakable crimes and living victims.

SVU has included since its beginning characters from two other shows: Capt. Cragen from the original Law and Order and Det./Sgt. Munch from Homicide. There have been numerous Crossover events with the other Law & Order shows.

SVU was retooled between the first and second seasons. The first season featured more of the characters' private lives, random courtroom scenes unrelated to the episodes' primary cases, and much brighter lit squadroom scenes. Also, there were several recurring Assistant DA's instead of a regular character serving that function. Some early episodes did not feature a trial portion at all. At the start of the second season, ADA Cabot was assigned to the unit and the show began to more closely resemble the original Law & Order series.

The show is known for its dual-action It's Personal/Idiot Ball trope, in which each episode will usually feature one of the main detectives developing an extremely personal, unprofessional attachment or aversion to a victim or criminal, due to their personal history. This may sometimes cause them to follow false leads, or fall under suspicion and need to clear their name. These will manifest themselves in just about any episode that deals with crimes of a certain nature. Characters with "hot-button" issues are:

  • Benson: rape and alcoholism (Benson is a child of rape or so her mother told her, and her mother was an alcoholic).
  • Stabler: pedophilia, incest (due to the many male offender-young female victim cases he has worked; it doesn't help that he has kids), and now mental illness.
  • Tutuola: drug abuse, race (especially how some victims are treated compared to others).
  • Munch: suicide, big government, infringement of civil liberties, assisted suicide, child abuse (this may be a case of actor on board).
  • Cragen: alcoholism (since he is a recovering alcoholic and card-carrying member of AA).
  • Huang: pseudo-psychology (it insults his intelligence) and, as of "Hardwired", gay-bashing, especially since he's a gay man himself both in-universe and in real-life.
  • Warner: unethical medical practices.
  • Rollins: Rape and sexual assault since it happened to her, possibly by a superior. Now expanded to include gambling, though so far she's handling her problems quite sensibly.
  • Amaro: Cheating and deception, since he suspected his ex-military wife of cheating on him with an army buddy. Bit him in the rear when at least one of her "dates" was with a shrink.

This trope works backwards too; we learn more about the detectives by noticing what kinds of people they empathize with. When the usually cool attorney Casey Novak is uncharacteristically lenient to a young girl who committed vehicular manslaughter while off prescription medicine (thanks to following the advice of a popular artist who was against them, after his own tragic story), you later find out that, quite predictably, she has a personal history with mental illness - her ex-fiancé (who she abandoned and later found in the streets) suffered from schizophrenia.

Detective (later Sergeant) John Munch is a crossover character who started out in the (originally unconnected) show Homicide: Life on the Street. Also, Captain Cragen appeared in the early seasons of Law and Order.

Sesame Street did a spot-on parody with Muppets called Law and Order: Special Letters Unit. The primary audience probably don't watch the original (or at least we hope not).

Character Sheet can be found here.

Not to be confused with the Special Vehicles Unit.


Tropes used in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit include:


  • Abusive Parents: Several victims have these but the worst was probably in "Sick" -- the woman who was poisoning her granddaughter to make it appear she had cancer. She used the child's "illness" to bilk charities, and then convinced her to say she was molested by a celebrity so they can get money from him, telling her she would die if they didn't.
    • Elliot is also implied to be one of these; he is, at the very least, neglectful and his wife has even left him at least once because of it. He apparently has not learned his lesson, as in the episode "Wildlife", he chooses to do his own undercover investigation on animal smugglers (which are not even in his jurisdiction) despite his wife, his partner, his boss, and even the FBI telling him to go home and spend time with his family. He ends up getting shot by the smugglers and still refuses to go home and be with his wife and kids, instead going straight back to see the guys who just tried to kill him before he is even slightly healed.
      • As of the episode "Turmoil", it can be confirmed that he is also physically abusive as he attacked his son after he pointed out his violent tendencies, of course knowing how he acts the fact he is violent with his kids is not a big surprise
      • Given that in an earlier episode "Ripped", we find out that Elliot's father was quite abusive himself[1], it could be a case of it being In the Blood.
  • Acquired Poison Immunity: In the episode "Wet", a suspect is believed to have committed murder by poisonous mushroom spores, which he built up an immunity to through years of exposure.
  • Acquitted Too Late: An episode starts off with a teenaged girl stumbling out of an elevator during a hotel opening. The staff shuttles her off to the side, and a suspect (who is on the sex offender registry as a pedophile) is later arrested. Turns out it's a scam to get money from the hotel, the supposedly under-age "victim" was in her 20s rather than her teens, the sex was consensual, and the "suspect" was a patsy set up by the girl and her family. Unfortunately, by the time anyone remembers that they have an innocent man in jail, the "suspect" had already been killed in prison (pedophiles being very unpopular in prison populations). Fortunately, that made the woman and her accomplices legally culpable for murder.
  • Action Girl: Olivia. And how. Rollins, too.
  • Activist Fundamentalist Antics: In one episode, a guy has tried for eight years to get his kidnapped brother back. The police and everyone else stopped caring many years ago, so now he resorted to kidnapping and raping a woman just to get the police's attention. Oh, and the woman is of course in on it. Pulling off a little Romanticized Abuse show to the audience as her "rape" gets broadcasted on the web.
  • Adam Westing: A rare non-comedic example with Jerry Lewis, whose Jerry-Lewis-like behavior is part of a manic episode that ends in murder.
  • An Aesop: If the murder investigation doesn't hammer it in hard enough, the B-plot with Elliot's family for that week will usually parallel the investigation in some way.
  • Aesop Amnesia: In one third season episode "Wrath", a serial killer targeting perpetrators put away by Olivia is revealed to be an innocent man who served 7 years before being cleared by DNA - because Olivia railroaded him. She's shaken to the core by this, which is interesting considering that never again does she ever show the slightest amount of hesitation in pursuing a suspect against whom only weak or circumstantial evidence exists.
    • Never again is erroneous. Olivia takes issue with Porter's weak evidence against environmentalists in "Infiltrated". The episode "Denial" (in the same season as "Wrath") also shows Olivia suggesting that more evidence should be gathered before charging a murder suspect.
    • Cragen and Elliot have also had weeks where they've been forced to learn that railroading suspects can lead to wrongful convictions and they need to consider that the suspects they finger might be innocent after all before pushing it. But then continue to operate like that at least every other week.
      • This was subverted in the episode "Double Strands", where they look into the background of a seemingly-guilty suspect, and find the true culprit, the original suspect's twin brother.
  • Aluminium Christmas Trees: The 2011 episode "Flight" seems to be obviously based on the Dominic Strauss-Kahn case, but in fact predated the incident by several months.
  • Always Female: The ADA. There have been more than half a dozen recurring ADAs, all of whom lacked a Y-chromosome:
    • Abbie Carmichael, crossing over from the original Law & Order, was the de facto ADA for most of the first season; she appeared in five of the first ten episodes.
    • Alex Cabot became the first permanent ADA for SVU in the premiere of Season Two; she lasted into Season Five, when she made a sudden and dramatic departure in time for November Sweeps.
    • She was immediately replaced by Casey Novak, who served for five seasons (holding the franchise record for longest-serving ADA); she was fired and disbarred at the end of Season Nine.
    • She, too, was immediately replaced, by Kim Greylek, who lasted for the first half of the tenth season. After her rapid departure, she was replaced by:
    • Alex Cabot, for her second stint, lasting most of the tenth and eleventh seasons, interrupted by:
    • Sonia Paxton, an older and more senior ADA (her rank is explicitly given as EADA, the same as that of Jack McCoy before his election as DA).
    • After Cabot leaves yet again, she's replaced by Jo Marlowe, a former cop and partner of Stabler's, played in a four-episode stint by Sharon Stone.
    • Mikka Von was intended as the new ADA for season twelve, but the actress who played her left after one episode to film Mission Impossible IV. Her replacement was Gillian Hardwicke.
    • Starting in Season 13, Alex Cabot and Casey Novak both return in (mostly) alternating episodes.
    • Subverted in "Disabled" where the EADA, Garrett Blaine, is male. Given a lampshade in his first appearance in the episode:

Cragen: You find me a replacement for Alex Cabot?
Blaine: Still Looking. Stuck with me for now.

  • Ambiguous Situation: Law and Order: SVU loves to leave stuff unresolved for the audience to ponder. Usually it's on the simple level whether the guy is guilty or not (such as in the episode "Doubt"), but sometimes they take it to a much deeper level. The detectives just keep spawning new theories, and none of them either gets verified. For example, the episode "Slaves" features a husband, his wife, and their nanny/girlfriend/sex-slave Elena. They keep the relationship hidden...
    • Either because Elena is in the country illegally, and also because her conservative aunt and other relatives would not approve of her living in a polyamorous relationship,
    • Or because they have kidnapped Elena and held her against her will until Stockholm Syndrome set in.
    • So, it's pretty much Safe, Sane, and Consensual, Polyamory and Casual Kink versus Complete Monster and A Match Made in Stockholm. The husband claims the first option, but that might just be From a Certain Point of View or even Blatant Lies. As for Elena, she never gets a voice in the matter. The kidnapping theory is implied to be the correct one, but if it's actually verified then that happens after the episode is over.
      • The only outright verification given for the Complete Monster viewpoint comes from the wife, and only AFTER she has been...
      • A. proven guilty of murdering Elena's aunt without her husband's knowledge or consent.
      • B. force-fed "oh, go ahead and blame it on your husband anyway" by the detectives as a "Get Out of Jail Free" Card.
  • And Starring: The credits have always ended with "And Dann Florek". The credits have always started with "Starring Christopher Meloni, Mariska Hargitay, Richard Belzer". In the first season, Florek immediately followed Belzer; as of Season 12, there have been a total of eight people credited in between the two of them (at different times).
  • Anti-Hero: Elliot, arguably. He's normally somewhere around a 3 on the Sliding Scale of Anti-Heroes, but occasionally gets up to 4.
  • Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving
  • Ascended Extra: M.E. Warner, Dr. Huang.
  • Attempted Rape: Olivia, she was saved by Fin, in the episode "Undercover".
    • Not to mention all the cases that have involved it.


  • Bad Boss: The abusive female boss of Luscious Grape wine, who's a cross between Leona Helmsley and R. Budd Dwyer in that her dog got all her money while her abused employees got nothing after she held a news conference to publicly blame everyone except herself for her misfortunes and then shot herself in the head.
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops: At least in "Bedtime". Who killed Cal Cutler? Oh look, it was the former patrol cop played by Jaclyn Smith! And another surprise! Cal Cutler isn't dead after all!
  • Backstab Backfire: At the end of "Criminal", one man has a gun to the head of another, intending to kill him, but is eventually convinced to spare his life and let the police take him into custody for a crime he committed. As he walks away, the guy he wanted to kill picks up the discarded gun and attempts to shoot him in the back--only to be gunned down by a police sniper.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: "Authority".
  • Be Careful What You Say: In "Sugar", when Vance Shepard finally confesses that it was his daughter (and not himself) who murdered his girlfriend, he notes that at the time she looked as if she might kill him too. When SVU gives him a few moments to say goodbye to her before they arrest her, she buries a pair of scissors in his neck.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Greedy Wine Business CEO Annette Cole goes out this way in "Bully".
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Dale Stucky in the Season 10 finale/
    • The COAP guy in the fall 2010 premiers.
    • A shy comic book guy who raped five women and created a vigilante group just to be with a woman who came to his store once.
  • Big Brother Is Your Friend
  • Black and White Morality: Mostly displayed by Elliot, who said when asked if a criminal can be rehabilitated that "Once a killer always a killer", and Fin, who believes that criminals are scum no matter what the crime or how heinous it is.
  • Body Double: Featured in both fall 2010 season openers. One mom forces her foster daughter to become a duplicate of her missing real daughter to the point of giving the kid a nose job, while another can no longer connect with her kid and even thinks she's an impostor due to Capgras delusion. If the second mom hears her daughter, then the connection's still there, but it disappears the second she sees her.
  • Bondage Is Bad: The first season episode "Stocks and Bondage" is all about this trope, and many other episodes have featured it as well.
  • Bound and Gagged: Stabler in "Zebras".
  • Brick Joke: In a dark way. Where an Arab-hating teen kills a Middle Eastern fellow prisoner in a holding cell. It isn't brought back up again until the very last second of the episode, where Captain Craigen gets a phone call informing them the friends of said inmate just killed him in jail.
  • Broken Bird: Olivia, Alex, Casey. In fact, pretty much every female character to ever appear on the show. If she isn't one the first time we see her, it's bound to happen eventually.
  • Broken Pedestal: In "Lunacy", Dick Finley becomes this to Elliot when he finds out that he murdered an astronaut because of his ambition.
  • The Bully: Annette Cole, literally. Guess what the title of the episode is that she appears in?
  • But Not Too Gay: A big deal is made about Fin's son being gay, with Fin having to deal with the news on top of the poor relationship he and Ken have already. But in spite of all the mentioning it gets, we haven't seen Ken so much as mention dating a guy so far.
  • Butt Monkey: Dale Stuckey, the overeager, inexperienced Crime Scene Unit technician. Although he is initially incompetent (and extremely annoying) the other characters act like he's being a babbling, annoying moron no matter what. When he does contribute something valid, though, it's generally presenting in such an annoying manner they snap at him anyway.


  • Car Cushion
  • Cassandra Truth: The mother in "Locum" insists that her daughter was lured away by an older girl with red hair who was wearing a green top and orange shorts. It takes ten years to prove she was right because no one thought to check the rest of the pictures of a suspected photographer.
  • The Cast Showoff: SVU has had exactly three episodes featuring French (or Franco-African) characters, two of which just so happened to be when Detective Beck was on the show. Interestingly, it appears that the writers actually showed restraint on this one, seeing as Connie Nielson speaks eight languages.
  • Catch Phrase:

Elliot Stabler: I Did What I Had to Do!
Kathy: Well, that's refreshing.
SVU Portable, we need a bus at...

    • Stuckey has a particularly annoying one for when he figures something out: "Bing, bang, bong."
  • Chain Link Fence
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Eliot originally had three daughters, however the oldest (Maureen) and youngest (Elizabeth) were last seen playing poker with the rest of the family around Season 7 and have not appeared since. While this might be understandable with Maureen, who is in her 20s and is probably out of the house, there is no excuse for Elizabeth's disappearance considering that she is still a teenager and her twin brother remains on the show. The younger's disappearance is especially noticeable in Dickie's Day in The Limelight episode "Turmoil" where he said it was hard to find kids that will talk with him and there is no mention of him having a sister the same age.
    • Maureen and Elizabeth both make brief appearances in the beginning of the episode "Scherezade". Season Eight.
    • And Elizabeth's picture becomes a minor plot point in one of the episodes in Season Ten.
      • As of the Season Twelve episode "Totems", Stabler claims he has 'five kids', so Maureen and Elizabeth still exist. They apparently have thankfully normal, uneventful lives.
  • Cold Opening
  • Cold Reading: Done to the cops by the villain in "Pure".
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Munch. Hearing a police officer rant about the nefarious machinations of The Man make them sound all the more ridiculous.
    • On the rare occasion, an episode will hilariously turn it into a case of Chekhov's Hobby whenever the case involves needing to worm through a layer of paranoid conspiracy nuts. Then Munch becomes an effective means of getting through to them.
  • Continuity Nod: Munch listing the former partners who have left him? Cassidy, Jeffries, and even Bolander from Homicide: Life on the Street.
  • Crime-Time Soap: Big time.
  • Crime and Punishment Tropes
  • Critical Psychoanalysis Failure
  • Crossover: Cragen and more recently ADA Cutter came from original Law & Order.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: One episode had a gang leader get crushed in a garbage truck.


  • Dan Browned: The writer for Intimidation Game claims it was researched... exclusively by Wikipedia. As any teacher ever will say, this is not valid research.
  • Dawson Casting: The episode "Obscene" revolves around a 16-year old starlet, played by a 21-year old actress.
    • In-universe: In the episode "Demon", they try to see if a rapist is guilty by baiting him with an adult cop who can pass for a teenager.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Munch and/or Fin, occasionally. Munch got to shine when his uncle Andy (played by none other than Jerry Lewis) got involved in a crime; the same happened with Fin and the episodes involving his gay son Ken, his ex-wife Theresa, and his evil stepson Darius.
  • Dead Little Sister: Used with a huge twist. Olivia's half-brother Simon is accused of rape. The accusation turns out to be false, and the one who framed him was the older sister of a mentally unbalanced woman he once dated, who commit suicide after he left her.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Back when Munch had actual lines.
  • Death by Sex: WAY too many times to count, but considering the fact that it's the main character's job to investigate sex crimes, it's a Justified Trope.
  • Deggans' Rule
  • Demoted to Extra If you began watching after the first half of the first season, you probably are not aware that Elliot has 4 children. While his son Dickie and middle daughter Kathleen have continued to appear occasionally, his oldest daughter Maureen and youngest daughter Elizabeth have not been seen since the seventh season.
  • Destructive Romance: The show has portrayed many of these over the years. In one episode, Olivia tries in vain to convince a woman to report her husband for Domestic Abuse. Of course she refuses to betray her beloved like that and eventually ends up dying in Olivia's arms, stabbed to death by her husband.
  • Did Not Do the Research: In an episode on black market kidney sales, one interviewed parent is dismissed as a suspect because she can't even afford to pay for a legal transplant for her son. But Americans with end-stage renal disease are automatically eligible for Medicare coverage, which pays for kidney transplants because it's cheaper than keeping folks on dialysis for years.
    • In at least one episode, Casey Novak makes an objection to the defense leading a hostile witness. In reality, not only is the opposing council allowed to do this they are strongly recommended to do so.
    • In the Season Four premiere, much is made of the fact that Alex is seeking the death penalty against a woman for the first time in New York State. Not only have at least four women been executed by the State of New York in real life, at least two were sentenced to death in the original Law & Order, one of whom was executed.
    • By far the worst example of this trope in the show is the constant claim that sex offenders have extremely high recidivism rates and cannot be cured. According to the Department of Justice, the recidivism rate for rapists is 2.1%. Other violent crimes have recidivism rates ten or twenty times that.
    • In one episode, Amaro talks to his deployed wife on Skype video. This is entirely doable, but only on iPad 2 or iPod Touch. Amaro is using an iPad 1, which doesn't have a camera.
  • Dirty Harriet: Olivia does this twice, albeit briefly, in Season 10. She goes undercover as a prostitute in "Wildlife", and a madam in "Hothoused".
  • Dirty Old Woman: Rita Wills in "Bedtime".

Rita Wills: For you, I'll even say ahh.

  • The Doll Episode
  • Do Not Pass Go: In one episode, said very seriously by Stabler to a perpetrator when he's finally been caught and is going to jail. It's not... actually relevant to the plot, but whatever.
    • The Narm of the line actually led the clip to be included on The Soup that week.
  • Double Standard: The treatment of female villains and male victims on the show is vastly different then the treatment of male villains and female victims.
  • Double Standard Abuse (Female on Male): This was the general belief for the majority of the episode "Ridicule". This belief was due to the victim Peter Smith being a stripper and male actor. Also, many people thought he was lying about being raped because he was a man.
  • Downer Ending: Starting with the events in "Venom", "Screwed". Everything goes downhill for the cast as their past mistakes come back to bite them. Not to mention the results of those mistakes become the key reason why Darius Parker walks away scot- free.
    • A significant chunk of the episodes fall under this.
    • Another big example is "Unstable". Basically, a serial rapist was caught, exonerating another man falsely imprisoned for his crime. However, either due to the actions of the Cowboy Cop or the perpetrator escaping, the guy dies and is therefore unable to testify, meaning the wrongfully imprisoned man doesn't get released.
    • The ending of "Sick", as if the Abusive Parents factor weren't bad enough. The granddaughter has permanent internal damage from the poisoning. The boy who claimed to have been molested by Billy Tripoli recants -- but it's suggested his parents forced him to do so in order to keep getting millions in hush money, and they had the boy (who is deeply disturbed to boot) taken out of the country. With Billy declared innocent and acquitted, hundreds, possibly thousands more kids are at risk unless a new victim steps forward, doesn't recant, and hopefully has lots of evidence and support against Billy's legal team, which will use the previous cases as precedent to accuse him/her of lying. Thanks, Grandma.
    • The end of "Smoked". Despite the three men responsible for her mother's death being incarcerated (the rapist, the man the rapist hired to intimidate his victim but went one step further and murdered her, and an ATF agent who gave the murder weapon and then tried to cover it up), her daughter goes into the precinct, and after finding out from Benson who they all are, shoots all three and also several other innocent people for no good reason. What's more is that the murderer survives and eggs her on, saying that he should have killed her as well. She then tries to shoot him again, but Stabler fatally wounds her and she dies moments later. At the end, at least four people are dead (the girl, the rapist and the ATF agent, and the recurring character Sister Peg), while the psychopath who murdered her mother right in front of her survives. Shoot the Shaggy Dog, full stop.
      • Not to mention this leads to Elliot Stabler leaving the force.
  • Dramatic Irony: Olivia frequently expresses her fears that the combination of an alcoholic mother and a rapist father will one day make her into a monster; Elliot reassures her that she's fine, and that it's not all about the genes... but he's the son of a mentally unstable mother and a physically abusive father, and he's been violent with at least one of his kids, and his daughter has the same mental difficulties as his mother.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Undercover gigs are a staple of this show. One episode in particular, "Demons", had Elliot pretending to be a convicted sex offender in order to get close to a rapist who had just been released from prison. Not only does this challenge Elliot with his own issues, but at one point said sex offender orders Elliot to rape a teenage girl while he watches. It's as intense as it sounds.
  • Driven to Suicide: Often spurred by somebody crossing the Despair Event Horizon; most often a victim who's given up on seeing justice done or a former suspect who couldn't take the team's usual methods of interrogation.
    • A big one is the mentally ill witness whom Olivia bullies into temporarily stopping taking his meds so he can testify in a specially difficult case. She later finds the dude's lifeless body, as he has hung himself due to both her behavior towards him and the side-effects. That's the only punishment she gets for basically driving a mentally-unstable person to commit suicide.
  • Driven to Villainy: Seen in many guest stars, often thanks to the actions of the detectives.
    • One notable example is in "Spectacle" where a girl is taken captive and raped with one of her kidnappers threatening to kill her when confronted unless his demands are followed. Turns out it was all a ruse (with his partner and the victim herself) to get the police to search for his younger brother, after being pushed aside so many times for other events, knowing that they would do so if the life of a young girl was at stake.
  • Drop the Hammer: "Hammered".
  • Dude in Distress: Stabler in "Zebras".


  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first season was, surprisingly enough, probably the closest the franchise has gotten to outright comedy. Obviously, given the show's subject matter, this resulted in a lot of Mood Whiplash moments (this is very evident in the Pilot). This is in stark contrast to the melodramatic and somber atmosphere associated with the show today.
  • Empty Cop Threat: A favorite trope of the entire franchise. Don't expect anyone to be called out on it no matter how much they use it to strong-arm people into talking.
  • Enhance Button: Used often. Notably deconstructed in "Authority" guest-starring Robin Williams. He acts as his own defense attorney and questions the techie on the software used to enhance a photograph that showed him leaving a library, which was the key piece of evidence against him. He coaxed the techie into admitting that the software can only make educated guesses based on various factors of the picture itself and can't actually recreate the scene shown the photograph in higher resolutions. Williams' character then presented the original photograph, where his face is too shadowed to be seen. It works and the jury lets him go.
  • Ephebophile: The writers think these guys are scum. We get it already.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Occurs to hilarious effect in "Bullseye". A suspected pedophile takes off in his car outside of a courtroom and drives into the side of a truck at a relatively low speed. The crowd reacts with shock as the officers sprint towards the crash, and after several seconds have passed, the car explodes in a spectacular fireball complete with several-story high flames. From minor front end damage that barely even crumpled the bodywork.
  • Evil Counterpart: Robin Williams' character in "Authority". As a freedom-loving, anti-authoritarian anarchist whose "noble" goals are actually a cover for more selfish personal motives, he forms a poetic contrast to the SVU crew, whose fascistic tendencies are born out of a genuine, if perhaps misguided, desire for the greater good of the people.
  • Evil Twin: The plot of the episode "Double Strands". The detectives arrest a suspect for a series of rapes, even tying him via DNA evidence and a distinctive tattoo, but further investigation into the suspect's background leads them to a twin brother that he did not even know about, but knew about him.
  • Exotic Entree: One episode has a character with an animal smuggling ring, whose members eat several of the animals.
  • Eye Scream: In the episode "Quickie", a man who is knowingly spreading around HIV is put on trial. One of the women he has infected comes up to him at the end of part of the trial and sprays him in the face with hydrochloric acid-maiming him and blinding him in one eye. Yikes.


  • Face Heel Turn: CSU Scrappy Stuckey isn't good at handling insults and criticism... unfortunately he's great at handling the Idiot Ball.
  • Faking the Dead: Alex Cabot, also Cal Cutler in "Bedtime".
  • Fallen Hero: In "Lunacy", it turns out the Victim of the Week was raped and killed by Elliot's own personal idol.
  • Females Are More Innocent: Despite the fact that they have meet several bad women the detectives of this show seem to stubbornly believe this especially if the girl is childbearing age (older women are sometimes considered capable of evil). The worst offender is probably Olivia who has at various times refused to believe that a woman was capable of murder, bent over backwards to prove a vicious female rapist and mutilator was justified in her actions, refused to arrest a girl for filing false charges and killed an even younger girl, and once even argued that Double Standard Rape (Female on Female) because a teenage girl that raped and killed her sister was also abused when she was younger (she was overruled on the last two).
  • Flanderisation: UnStabler. If you go back and watch the pilot, El is actually the more sensible one of the two of them, and chews out Liv for yelling at a victim's wife. Add eight seasons, shake, and serve the resulting king of the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique in a highball glass. Or maybe that should be screwball.
    • This could be explained, at least partially, by Olivia being new to SVU in the first season. As she gets more used to dealing with victims, she becomes the more rational of the two. Especially because in one episode they mention that Elliot's been in SVU for something like six times longer than the average cop.
  • Foreshadowing: In "Bedtime", Jaclyn Smith greets Stabler and Benson at the front door of her apartment. Note that she does not seem to let them inside, and yells to 'Pietro' that she's stepping out for a moment. Gee, I wonder what she could be hiding? ...Cal Cutler maybe?
  • Freudian Excuse: Practically every single criminal/victim/witness tries to pull one.
  • Functional Addict: ADA Sonya Paxton, a very aggressive but goodhearted woman (really deep down) who turned out to be a functioning alcoholic. She left when it was discovered she was drunk during trial(s), had to take a breathalyzer test in front of the whole court, and finally disbarred.
    • She later returns, the incident having shaken her up enough for her to have gone to AA and actually seem to be putting in an honest effort to stop drinking (there's a brief "fake-out" moment during the episode where it appears she might have relapsed, but it's just a typical psych-out).

G - H

  • The Gambling Addict: Rollins, apparently, as of "Home Invasions". She confesses this to Cragen, and is getting help.
  • Genki Girl: One gets raped in "Victim". She later dies.
  • Glasses Girl: For many fans, Alex Cabot became twice as appealing in glasses. Even glasses that would look hideous on most people.
  • Golf Clubbing: "Lead".
  • Good Cop, Bad Cop: Has been subverted, averted and played straight at various points through the series. It also lampshaded on multiple occasions (usually by Genre Savvy suspects). Justified, because cops actually do use this technique in real life, though less blatantly.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When investigators find a woman's chopped-off and buried breasts the camera pans up as the box is opened, so all we see is the disgusted reaction of the investigator.
    • Also an episode that opened with two guys finding a drowned baby in a cooler.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: Done more each season.
  • Harmful to Minors: The unit has to deal with cases like this quite regularly.
  • Hello, Attorney!: All the ADAs qualify, but Alexandra Cabot in particular.
    • Please don't discount Casey.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: SVU often play with this trope, with detectives reminding themselves and each other that bruises aren't necessarily caused by abuse, they could also be caused by BDSM. In some episodes, the trope is played completely straight.
    • In one episode, a homosexual suspect gets his career destroyed because he was surrounded by Normative Sex Haters and Olivia accidentally outed him.
    • In one episode, a shoe fetishist kills a woman for her boots. Dr Huang insists that fetishism is a harmless sexual variation, and a very tragic story is gradually revealed. It turns out that the murderer's mother hated her son for being sexually "abnormal". She tried to "cure" his fetishism by beating him in the head with frying pans and other hard objects, and eventually this abuse caused him permanent brain damage that made him unstable enough to kill a woman by mistake.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Said by the FBI agent (who committed as Vigilante Execution) in "Signature" before blowing her own brains out.
  • Hidden Depths: The Badass undercover FBI Agent played by Marcia Gay Harden is also a Happily Married mother of two and lives in the girliest apartment ever seen in the series.
  • Hide Your Pregnancy: Mariska Hargitay.
  • Hollywood Law: Frequent, a solid "objection" seems to be "anything that upsets me".
  • Hostage Situation: "Shattered".


  • Idiot of the Week: Elliot not believing that men could be raped by women, Olivia being scared of mentally ill people and/or being baffled as to why a gay football player would have it hard.
  • I Have This Friend: In "Persona", an older woman tells a young battered wife that she had a friend who was abused by her husband and never told anyone. It was her, of course, and she killed the guy in 1974 and got away with it for thirty-odd years, until the detectives put it together.
  • I'll Kill You!: Spoken word for word by Ann Margaret in "Bedtime".
  • Incest Is Relative: At least three times; one resulted in a child two actually, but it was unreported.
  • Internal Affairs
  • In the Blood: The tragic and criminal pasts of several cast members and guest stars.
  • Ironic Death: Sister Peg dealt with mentally unstable homeless people, vicious pimps, and drug addicts on a daily basis, not to mention the various attempts on her life, and the person who (accidentally) kills her? A random teenage girl who was aiming at someone else. Then again, Sister Peg risking her life and heroically sacrificing herself is very appropriate.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: Happens often to the detectives when interrogating a suspect. An example is in "Hate":

Finn: "I've got some words for you--killer, psycho."
Suspect: "Hey, I'm no psycho!"

  • It's Personal: So frequent, it's arguably the premise of the entire show. Again, see also Idiot Ball.
    • Not even the judges are are immune to this trope, as in "Persona", Judge Donnelly temporarily steps down in order to prosecute a woman (whose case she had previously worked) who escaped conviction for murdering her husband for years, all because she inadvertently made her a laughingstock in front of the boys.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Ann Margret's washed up drunk character Rita Wills.


  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: At times, Elliot, Fin or Olivia beat up suspects and culprits alike, or emotionally blackmailing both witnesses and victims, driving at least one of them to suicide. It's all in the name of justice!

Dr. Huang: "What's next, are you going to bash in people's skulls to make them talk?"

  • Jerkass: Elliot Stabler, at times. He beats up innocent men, verbally abuses others, ruins one innocent man's life after accusing him of pedophilia on a flawed report, and commits at least several counts of police misconduct.
  • John Munch: Classic!
  • Jurisdiction Friction
  • Just a Flesh Wound: Without fail, every bullet taken by one of the main characters will "narrowly miss" a lung or major artery, and they can be expected to make a "full recovery", though occasionally the injury will carry over into the next few episodes.
    • See also M.E. Warner's A Day in the Limelight episode "Blast", where she shoots a perpetrator in the leg, intending to cause nonfatal damage. Justified for two reasons: She's a medical doctor, and therefore would know where to aim to avoid a mortal injury; and, more importantly, the perpetrator was holding up a bank with an entire squadron of police cars waiting outside, and he had just fired at them, and was seconds away from committing suicide by cop.
  • Just One Little Mistake: Susan Delzio in "Bedtime". It turns out the man everybody thought dead was actually alive, hidden away by Susan.


  • Karma Houdini/Ultimate Job Security: Over the show's 11 seasons, the SVU detectives have gotten at least a couple dozen innocent people killed, either through insane violation of common sense (putting a (wrongly) accused sex offender in the same cell as a biker gang, allowing a blatantly unstable victim to interact with an accused suspect without first searching her for a weapon) or railroading a (incorrect) suspect combined with suggestively leading a traumatized victim or family member to the mindset where they're ready to commit a vigilante execution. They've suffered no consequences for any of these incidents, and even Internal Affairs never brings it up even when they're butting heads with the team. You'd think that after so many deaths somebody would file a civil suit, or at least the media would pick up on the pattern and jump all over it.
    • To be fair, none of the detective are Magnificent Bastard enough to deliberately set up the vigilante executions, but after the first six or seven you'd think they'd have learned some kind of lesson.
  • Kayfabe Music: The show used this twice. Two big scary musicians, suspected of horrible crimes.
    • One is a black "gangster" rapper suspected of rape/murder on a white woman. However, he is actually quite naive and has no experience of real crime, his gangster persona being nothing more than a kayfabe persona. The woman was one of his friends, and he ends up getting killed by a real gangster (who just happens to be white) as he's trying to help the detectives catch the real villain.
    • The other is a "vampire" who is afraid of getting HIV from real blood.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Detective John Munch, after over a decade between Homicide and this series, is finally promoted to Sergeant, due to his taking the exam (which he claims was because of a bar bet). In practice, though, this is mostly just an excuse for keeping him away from the action and offscreen.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: "Chameleons" begins with the team going after a sexually motivated spree killer, who ends up being killed by a serial killing prostitute.
  • The Killer Was Left-Handed: Or rather, he had two sets of DNA.
    • Truth in Television It's called Chimera Syndrome.
    • In the episode "Beef", Olivia was able to deduce that the foreman that they had a ton of evidence against including his DNA and a confession was innocent because he was left handed and his Corrupt Corporate Executive boss/mother was the real killer (not to mention a serious case of Nice Character, Mean Actor.
    • Subverted in the first episode, when a character tries to hide her left-handedness by using her right hand.


  • The Lab Rat: The Crime Scene Unit two less as of 2009.
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: Stabler's Epic Chin of Justice.
  • Last of its Kind The only remaining first-run series in a franchise that once roamed the NBC schedule like buffalo.
  • Left Hanging: The Season Eleven episode "Savior" did this. A young prostitute goes into premature labor and her baby is put on life support. The mother then runs away, giving power of attorney to Olivia, effectively giving Olivia the choice of whether the baby lives or dies. The episode ends with the baby needing immediate brain surgery and the doctors hammering Olivia for a decision that she never gives. This turns into a case of What Happened to the Mouse?, as neither the baby nor the mother are ever seen or heard from again.
  • Legal Jailbait: An episode involves a 17 year old girl with the body of a 10 year old going out with an older man. The officers try to bust the man, but the girl was legal and consenting.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Usually averted, like most live TV shows, but weirdly played straight with Fin's son, Kevin, who has worn the same grey T-shirt/tan jacket combination in all of the five episodes he appeared in for at least one scene.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: "Sick" plays with this: the child is sick, but not from the leukemia she thinks she has -- her grandmother is just making her ill to bilk charities.
  • Living Lie Detector: Martin Short as a Complete Monster serial killer, who uses his skills to pretend to be a psychic and play games with his victims' families.
    • Incidentally, the system he supposedly uses is real. It was developed by the guy who inspired Lie to Me.
  • Long Runners
  • Love Makes You Crazy and Evil and Stupid: Most recent example of all three being the swinger who fell in love with a con-artist (which caused his wife to stab him into a coma), paid her bail after she was arrested, and when the detectives revealed that the only person she really loved was her brother (yes, like that), killed her brother so she would have to be with him. One can only imagine what his teenage daughter thinks of all this.


  • Made of Explodium: The car that Edwin Adelson drives in "Bullseye".
    • The exploding car gambit happens to Tim Donovan in "Loss" as well.
  • Magical Queer: Finn's son, Ken, seems to be becoming a fairly realistic version of this trope; as he is a Twofer Token Minority, he could double as a Magical Negro as well, although most of his plotlines have more to do with being gay than black. In every episode he's appeared in, he's volunteering with some new group or helping a friend in danger. Naturally, his help never really works, but he's still a decent, helpful gay guy whose boyfriend has never been seen on camera. He finally appears as Ken's fiancee and is promptly beaten into a coma.
  • Mama Bear: Sophie Gerard in "Shattered". Do not tell her that her son is dead and not coming back.
  • Manipulative Bastard/Manipulative Bitch: Many.
  • Manufacturing Victims: The show has played this card a few times.
    • There's a few episodes that deal with "repressed memory" therapists and the problems they cause, since "repressed memories" are usually false.
    • The cast does it too, though. There are numerous incidents where a "victim" doesn't think she was victimized, and she is portrayed as being in denial. Which is possible, although in some cases it seems more like they legitimately weren't traumatized by whatever "should" have traumatized them.
  • Mauve Shirt: This show is even better than the original at maintaining a large recurring cast. In addition to the billed cast (of whom both Dr. Huang and Dr. Warner were promoted to the opening titles; before that, they too were examples of this trope), we have the CSU techie(s), the TARU techie, about a half-dozen judges, about a half-dozen defense attorneys, Stabler's family, Finn's ex-wife and son, the recurring IAB guy... the list is endless. In some episodes, the only non-recurring characters to appear in more than one scene are the victim and the perpetrator.
    • And yes, at least one of these Mauve Shirts was conspicuously killed off. It was the CSU techie(s). Plenty of others have had their share of close calls, too.
  • Meaningful Name: Elliot Stabler... isn't stable.
  • Mighty Whitey: Stabler in the Chinatown-centric episode "Debt", especially since the actual Asian-American member of the main cast (Huang) gets shoved aside.
    • And this was kind of lampshaded with the exchange "What, you assume I speak Chinese?" "No, I heard you order take-out once."
  • Mind Rape: (Of the "mundane kind", of course): Merrit Rook puts Elliot and Olivia through this once. It fails, by the way.
    • More than one interrogation session feels a lot like this. A good example is Elliot and Dr. Rebecca Phoenix browbeating and pressuring a stressed and terrified little girl into revealing who raped her, to the point that she falsely accuses her coach to just. have. them. stop. Another is Olivia bullying a mentally-ill witness into putting a temporary stop to his medical treatment to have him clear his memories enough to testify in a difficult case; he does so, but he's so fucked up by Olivia's abusive behavior and the withdrawal side-effects that he commits suicide immediately afterwards. Truth in Television, as police interrogations really can seem like Mind Rape in Real Life and very often do lead to false accusations and/or confessions.
  • Mood Whiplash: The Commercial Break Cliffhangers have a tendency to lead into upbeat, family-friendly commercials, often with loads of Unfortunate Implications due to the perverted subject matter of the show.
  • Mushroom Samba: Have fun, Olivia! Doubles as a Crowning Moment of Funny when she yells "I'm not the one who stabbed the captain with the pickle!"
  • My Card: Olivia was actually once framed by a guy who killed somebody and left Olivia's card on the body... as well as her DNA on the knife.


  • Naive Newcomer: The pilot, while not a formal Welcome Episode, depicts Benson as a very recent transfer to SVU.
  • Naughty Birdwatching: The cold open for one Season 6 episode involves some scouts stargazing on a roof, and a couple of them use the opportunity for "peeping at other heavenly bodies." Naturally, they quickly spot a corpse too.
  • Never My Fault: Oh poor little Annette Cole. If you had not been such a bitch to your employees in the wine business...this could have all been avoided. But you just had to kill yourself... didn't you?
  • New Media Are Evil: The internet, more often than not, will kill you.
    • And what doesn't kill you makes you a sex trafficking victim.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the cases Olivia personally involves herself in, she sometimes unintentionally makes things worse for the victims (see Idiot of the Week above).
    • There's an episode where an innocent man Olivia had arrested and provided the key testimony against (she had been acting in good faith and following procedure) goes around killing her other "victims" (the family members of victims she was unable to help and the like), obsessed with making her believe it was all her fault.
      • IIRC, at the end the other detectives tell her to just ignore the guy and that he was completely off base by blaming her, but she DOES accept that she contributed to these deaths through her actions while still seeming clear that she knows it wasn't her FAULT.
    • In the episode "Anchor", ADA Cabot was questioning, in court, the Bill O'Reilly Expy the defendant claimed had brainwashed him into killing illegal aliens. After obtaining the witness' testimony that he would never incite violence, Cabot then proceeds to bait him for absolutely no reason at all. The witness then proceeds to demand that his followers stop Cabot, inciting a riot in the courtroom, proving the defendant's case, and costing Cabot what would otherwise have been a slam dunk conviction. She is never called on this.
      • That wasn't an accidental case of this, though - she pretty obviously thought there were bigger fish to fry. In her mind, it was akin to letting a low-level thug off the hook in order to bring down the Don.
  • No Bisexuals: In one episode, a serial rapist of women is found to be living with another man as a gay couple. The cops all decide that he must just be using the rapes as a power-trip, not for the sex. At least they averted Depraved Bisexual... (this time).
    • Another episode is far, far more painful than this one and is all about a group of black men who have sex with each other on the side behind their wives' back. Despite that premise, not once is the idea of bisexuality brought up, even in passing, and any mention of the possibility of sex with men leads to the cast (particularly Elliot) to downright state that only gays are capable of it.
    • 11x13, "P.C.", finally averted the trope. It wasn't handled too well. More specifically, a very militant lesbian activist (she only cares about lesbian rights) came out as bi to save her boyfriend from being crucified as the perpetrator of the week. When she announces it, most of the lesbians at the meeting act like she betrayed them. While there are both gay and straight people who, unfortunately, believe wholeheartedly in this trope, they're generally not so... melodramatic.
    • And the time that Cragan found a child that had been missing for years in a case that had always grated him. Turns out said kid was in a perfectly loving foster family only to be taken away from them once his biological father is discovered.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Occasionally there are characters based on real-life celebrities such as the Michael Jackson and Jack Mc Clellan stand ins in "Sick" and "Confession" respectively.
  • No Ending: The episode featuring Billy Campbell as an art professor accused of raping his student. We never find out whether he was found guilty or not.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted in one episode. A serial rapist kept track of his numerous victims' menstrual cycles because his entire intention was to impregnate them.
  • No Rest for The Wicked: The detectives will go without sleep for days at a time.
    • A witness suffers from Fatal Familial Insomnia, which makes him appear crazy (the victim's blood on his clothes doesn't help). Dr. Huang looks really guilty when the guy perks up and asks if he'll get better.
  • Not Proven: From time to time.

O - P

  • Odd Friendship: Olivia and a defense attorney (she's pointed several clients including her half-brother his way). Their friendship is especially odd since they first met when he won a case against a rapist. It's also rather inconvenient since they both do everything they can for justice, and in the attorney's case that includes revealing Olivia's romantic relationship with the ADA.
  • Off on a Technicality: Going this route is a bad idea, since the show adores some Vigilante Justice (it generally means you've traded jail time for being shot in the head shortly after leaving the police station).
  • Older Than They Look: Invoked in "Pretend", which involves a 16-year-old high school student who turns out to be a 28-year-old woman who's been posing as a teen for ten years in order to scam the foster-care system.
  • Old Man Marrying a Child: This show has an episode about this. The marriage is not legally binding, but it's treated as a real marriage by the cultists.
  • Once For Yes, Twice For No: Subverted in an episode with a brain-dead patient; they set things up to look like this in order to engineer a Bluffing the Murderer moment.
    • Played straight at a number of points in an episode with MS patients.
  • Online Alias: One season 11 episode has a guy who goes by "Master Bater" online.
  • Only Sane Man: Criminal profiler and FBI Special Agent Dr. George Huang often fills this roll pointing out things like sexuality is complicated and a person can be attracted to both men and women in "Lowdown" while every one else believes that there are No Bisexuals. Or pointing out in "Clock" that sleeping with some one of legal age that is Older Than They Look is not a crime. Unfortunately they usually do not listen to his (professional and usually well-informed) opinion.
    • John Munch is occasionally this. When he actually has lines.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Irish actor Stephen Rea, known for playing Inspector Finch in V for Vendetta, guest stars in the episode "Solitary", and once in a while you'll hear a touch of UK in his speech. Listen to the way he says "years" when he's testifying about being in solitary confinement.
  • Overprotective Dad: Elliot. It was so exaggerated that Kathy actually kicked him out of home for more than a while.
  • Papa Wolf: Between Elliot and Fin... A special mention has to be given to "Venom", when they go head-to-head. Fin gets angry when Elliot interrogates his son, and responds by bringing up Maureen's drunk driving. The two of them need to be pulled off of each other.
  • Parent Of A Thousand Young: An Octomom-Expy and a Dugger/Goselin couple who were vying for a reality TV deal if I recall correctly the henpecked husband killed his wife because a widower raising a bunch of adopted special-needs children trumped a single mother raising a bunch of apparently normal kids.
    • A "reproductive abuser" who fathered 46 children, twenty in New York alone and compared himself to Monteczuma and other harem keepers his 47th child was killed when his mother committed murder-suicide after he refused to become more involved than a check once a month. He met his end after the psychologist who identified him as an abuser decided to become a vigilante woman (again - she'd previously beaten a child rapist to death with a bat); she "just" wanted to cut off his penis but accidentally blew him up because the knife was filled with compressed air.
  • Pater Familicide: "Annihilated".
  • Perp Walk: You can almost guess what comes next based on how many minutes into the show a suspect is being led away in cuffs.
  • Phony Psychic: Martin Short's guest appearance. Also a Complete Monster.
  • Platonic Life Partners: Benson and Stabler
  • Plot Induced Stupidity: SVU has a nasty tendency to let their extremely vulnerable and jittery witnesses within earshot (or stabbing range) of their tormentors, usually leading to said witness justifiably wigging out and refusing to testify. One particularly egregious instance had the victim passing within a few feet of her rapist husband, just long enough for him to convince her not to testify.
  • Police Lineup
  • Positive Discrimination: It's a pretty safe bet the criminal is a man. Granted, that isn't a departure from reality, but if there is a female suspect, it will turn out that a man actually did it, or pushed her to do it.
    • Of course, there are plenty of times where a female 'victim' turns out to be the perpetrator, or at least in collaboration. This show loves its melodramatic plot twists.
  • Power Walk
  • Pregnant Hostage
  • Prison
  • Prison Rape: The detectives' favorite threat comes back to bite the SVU in the ass at least twice: the first time was when a pair of serial rapists was attacking men in Central Park while Olivia was distracted by her new-found half-brother Simon they got them to confess by threatening to reveal what happened to them in prison in a presidential investigation; the second was when a perp was raped in prison after Olivia threatened him with it, and deduced that Olivia had sent the man to rape him. Didn't stop Cabot from using the threat a week later.
    • Nearly happens to Olivia in "Undercover", at the hands of a rapist prison ward. Fin shows up to help in the nick of time.
    • Also happens in an episode featuring a pre-op male-to-female transgendered person, after she loses a fight to be housed in a women's prison and then retracts the deal she previously made with the ADA only to be convicted and sent back to the men's prison anyway.
    • Another notable one was the guy at the hotel party in "Taken". As usual, when there's one guy who's just gotta be the perpetrator, he turns out not to be. To add the final Butt Monkey touch, he ends up prison-raped to death in Rikers before he can be released.
  • Promotion to Parent: Sort of: a newly-ex-prostitute gives Olivia power of attorney over her very premature, very ill infant daughter while she (the ex-prostitute) gets her life to a point where she can be a good mother (at least, that's what she said). Earlier, Olivia tells Elliot that she would rather stop caring for the infant because there's no chance she'll have a normal, healthy life (Elliot disagrees and accuses her of coming to that decision because she's not a parent); the episode has a No Ending when the baby needs emergency surgery, and Liv is forced to decide whether to allow an operation which could leave the kid brain-damaged or let her die, and since the baby hasn't been mentioned since...
    • Word of God says (on Twitter) that the baby died. Uh... good to know.
    • Happens again to Olivia, who is now legal guardian to her not-half-sister's teenage son after she killed her mother's rapist/biological father and fled. The boy was happily living with Olivia (who was dragging her feet trying to find his bio-dad) until not-sister, now high as a kite and living with her enabling drug-addict girlfriend, returned for custody. (here's where things get a bit fuzzy) Not-sister was arrested but then her girlfriend revealed that she killed the rapist, and then the kid's bio-dad, who was desperately looking for his son and had had a room ready for years, killed his ex-wife's girlfriend because he blamed her for getting his wife addicted to drugs. So not-sister's in prison, bio-dad's in prison, and the boy is with bio-dad's parents.
  • Psycho Lesbian: When a lesbian is murdered, the unit believes that a rapist who targets lesbians may be responsible. It turns out that her girlfriend had serious anger issues and a history of abusing her partners. Somewhat of a subversion (?) the girlfriend had indeed been abusive, but she was in therapy, and the culprit was a male rapist targeting lesbians.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Stuckey... or something.
  • Put Down Your Gun and Step Away
  • Put on a Bus: Alex Cabot. She got better... or rather her would-be killers got worse.
    • She voluntarily went back on the bus after a witness told her about the horrific rapes in Africa and joined an NGO to prosecute the rapists for crimes against humanity. She came back after the summer.
    • Starting on Season 13, Elliot Stabler. He took early retirement but from Olivia and Cragen's reactions you'd have thought he Ate His Gun like his father.
      • Dr. Huang as well.

Q - R

  • Quip to Black: Usually Stabler or Munch, sometimes Olivia.
  • Rape as Backstory: The reason Olivia tends to take rape cases rather personally is because she herself was born of rape.
    • She herself has also been a victim of attempted rape one but was saved by Fin.
    • New detective Rollins was either raped or assaulted, possibly by someone in her own unit.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The monologue at the beginning of each episodes states that sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous.
  • Reactionary Fantasy: A favorite of the whole franchise, but taken to new levels considering this show focuses around sexual crimes. What would the horror of kidnapping a teenage girl be without a lurid recounting of the bondage and sexual perversions she suffered?
  • Reality Ensues: Season 13 seems to be built completely out of these, from a legal standpoint.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Fin gives one to Elliot near the end of "Cold".
    • Olivia launched a classic one to the leader of the teen pregnancy pact in "Babes". Flaunting pregnancy (as a teenager) is one thing, but bringing up Liv's biological clock is just asking for it.
  • Red Herring: Generally the first suspect that gets brought in, though occasionally subverted.
    • Usually you can tell when it looks like they've got their man and there's 40 minutes of show left.
    • Double red herring in Season 3 Episode 6 "Redemption".
  • Redshirt Army: The competence of the ordinary police officers inversely correlates with how dramatic the scene they are in is. Hostage situations, the Monster of the Week making an escape attempt, a gunman attacks the courthouse, will all see any rank-and-file policemen quickly neutralized to heighten the drama.
  • Refuge in Audacity: In "Flight", the billionaire child molester who accused a twelve-year-old girl of rape surely qualifies. He's shocked that the detectives don't appear to take his case seriously.
  • Replacement Goldfish: In the episode "Locum", a couple is revealed to have adopted a orphan girl simply because she looked almost identical to the biological daughter who was abducted and possibly killed ten years before. To make the newly adopted kid look as much like their lost child, the parents (but mostly the mother) forced the 8-12 year old to wear the girl's clothes (she was originally a tomboy), straighten and dye her hair, and even get a nose job and a RFID chip implanted in her so her parents can find her if she gets lost. The kicker? The biological daughter is found by the police alive and at the end of the episode is returned to her parents as the replacement daughter watches on.
  • The Resenter: "Theatre Tricks" (which might be an homage to Perfect Blue and by extension Black Swan) had a very resentful plain, chubby wannabe actress who was so jealous of her naive, pretty friend that she set her up to be raped by a judge and pinned it on her director because the pretty girl stole the plain one's part just by showing up while the plain girl had to prostitute herself in order to be considered and wanted her friend to "suffer for once in her life." The detectives found it ironic that out of all the exploitative men in the pretty girl's life (she had a stalker plus a sleazy director) the one who actually hurt her was a woman who acted like her friend.
    • James Van Der Beek's character goes the extra mile to get revenge on the (admittedly insufferable) med school classmate who ruined his life by stealing his identity and using "genetic attraction" to seduce his rival's three teenage sperm donor daughters (getting one pregnant) and the guy's "legitimate" daughter. When he's arrested he tells the wife (also his ex-girlfriend) that her daughter is dead -- she isn't, but she's now convinced her "lover" is her real father.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Sometimes fall into this, despite all possible reasons why their actions wouldn't be a good idea. Especially if its an It's Personal moment.
    • A major example of this is in "Blinded" where Olivia deliberately informs the feds of a perpetrator's location, knowing that he would be sent back to Louisiana to be executed. All to get revenge for him headbutting Elliot into a car window, which caused him to go blind (he got better). And after Casey calls her out on it, she informs the DA that she threw the case (which she did, but that's another issue).
    • Twisted up in the episode where Terrence Howard's DA from Law & Order: LA appears to defend his cousin, who raped a woman who turned out to be the granddaughter of one of three men who raped his mother when he was a child and made him watch (and called her a whore to escape justice on top of it). Except he didn't -- he couldn't bring himself to do it and she only said that because grandpa told her no one would believe she was merely attacked and "black men always rape". The DA's cousin still gets a measure of revenge because the granddaughter A) is going to jail because of the false accusations and B) now utterly despises her grandfather.
  • Rich Bitch: Holy hell, the grandmother (who's May Parker!) in the Mushroom Samba episode "Wet", who sees her granddaughter as weak for becoming a drug addict and needing silly things like therapy and emotional support. Later, she visits her granddaughter after a suicide attempt just to take back her necklace and disown her the granddaughter did kill someone (who grandma saw as more of a granddaughter than her own) but even the detectives can see how grandma drove her to it.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Just too many.
    • To the point where an SVU marathon on the USA channel was called the "Ripped from the headlines SVU marathon."
  • Romanticized Abuse: The show sometimes go for having their cake and eat it too, denouncing the horrors of sexual abuse by displaying it in almost pornographic details.
    • One episode "Slaves" revels in the details on how a young Romanian woman has been imprisoned, brainwashed and used as sex toy by an American couple. Lots of neatly presented details about the horrors she endured makes for a strange mix of Fetish Fuel and Nausea Fuel. Surprisingly, the detectives let the wife off the hook in exchange for selling out her husband, in spite of the fact that she murdered the girls aunt without even informing her husband about it afterwards.
    • Another episode "Spectacle" runs on the principle that no one can resist watching a good rape. The episode starts with a video broadcast of a woman getting raped by a masked man popping up on the intranet of a university campus. It turns out that the guy who had the woman kidnapped and raped lost his little brother a long time ago. The brother was kidnapped, and the police gave up searching after a little while. After this cold case is solved, the unsurprising reveal is made that they was simply playing make-believe rape as a little Activist Fundamentalist Antics plot to get the police's attention.
      • To be fair, it was said they tried closing the window but couldn't. And everyone couldn't tell if it was real or not.
  • Running Gag: As Benson puts it, "why does everyone think I'm a lesbian?"
    • Also the fact that Elliot gets terribly wounded every time he runs into a certain FBI Agent, Dana Lewis. In the most recent episode "Penetration", he actually gets shot by her because a bullet she fired at her rapist ricocheted off of a metal beam. The resigned look on his face after getting shot is absolutely hilarious.


  • Salt and Pepper: Fin and Munch.
  • Schiff One-Liner
  • The Schizophrenia Conspiracy
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money: Many wealthy and powerful perpetrators find that this doesn't play in the Law & Order universe.
  • Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: One episode featured a man raping other men, even though the thought of sex with males disgusted him, while another had a guy raping promiscuous women, who he was utterly disgusted by; he believed he was "purifying" them by raping them.
  • Shipper on Deck: USA Network itself supports Elliot/Olivia, if the fact that they dedicated an entire marathon to the ship is any indication
  • Shot in the Ass: Happens to Munch when a bunch of Neo-Nazis shoot up a courtroom.
  • Should Have Thought of That Before X: In one disturbing example, a man is framed for raping a teenage girl, and is subsequently abused in prison. He pleads with the officers for protection but they just tell him, "You should have thought about the pecking order before you raped that girl." He ends up getting killed.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Elliot and Olivia are named after two of Dick Wolf's children.
    • In "Pure", Huang basically outlines the premise of Lie to Me, including namedropping Lightman's Real Life counterpart, Paul Ekman.
  • Slut Shaming: Shows up repeatedly as the defense tries to smear the victim.
  • Smart People Know Latin: Dr. Huang effortlessly steps in to correct a mistranslated Latin word in the episode "Silence".
  • Smug Snake: Most of the recurring defense attorneys, which come in various shades of Jerkass and most of whom are as just as slimy, smooth and arrogant as all other Hollywood lawyers. On at least one occasion though, one such attorney (albeit reluctantly) helped the detectives bring in his AWOL client when he failed to show up at court.
  • Spousal Privilege: One episode revolves around the concept that two abusers had married their victims precisely to abuse spousal privilege, something they openly mock the detectives with. Their overconfidence eventually backfires when investigations dig up a prior marriage license they hadn't gotten annulled, making their current marriages null and void...
  • Squick: Invoking this is a major chunk of the premises on the show.
  • Status Quo Is God: A great deal of the main characters are Static Characters. Despite the many episodes that have carried anvilicious aesops about such, after twelve seasons Elliot is still abusing the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique and bending rules without serious long-term consequences, Olivia is still getting too close to victims, and the precinct as a whole is still completely gung-ho towards convicting the first suspect that appears on their radar and trying to railroad them into a conviction despite shaky evidence. In particular to the last point, you could make a lengthy list of all the episodes where the first suspect they collar is a Red Herring and is completely innocent despite the evidence of their guilt, but they have not picked up on this nor have they learned from it.
  • Stealth Pun: The Not-Michael Jackson episode has a scene where the medical examiner tries to take a pubic hair sample and finds the guy had laser hair removal done. Smooth Criminal, indeed...
  • Straw Feminist: Olivia sometimes gets lines like this. At one point she stated she didn't think a woman could perform cold-blooded murder, and her general behavior around male victims likely gets her just on the edge of this trope.
  • Strictly Formula: And how. By the 20-minute mark it's possible to determine what the entire rest of a given episode's plot looks like, up to and including who else dies, why, and when, to the minute.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Once a season, if that.

T - U

  • Take That: In-verse example - Merritt Rook, after winning his case, appears on a morning talk show with a pet sheep named "Elliot".
  • Team Dad: Cragen's basic role. Lampshaded by Fin once: "Dad's mad!"
  • Teens Are Monsters: Many teenage rapists, drug dealers, Rich Bitches, and then there's Elliot's kids:
    • His older daughter goes out of control, which turns out to be the bipolar disorder she inherited from her paternal grandmother (which, it should be pointed out, Does Not Work That Way).
    • His eldest son wants to escape his dad's tyrannical rule by, uh, joining the military as a minor (the recruiter's creepy "we'll get him eventually" manner didn't help). When he's suspected in his ex-druggie friend's disappearance, he makes some stinging remarks about his sister and grandmother ("Well, I'm not the first Stabler to go crazy") and Benson and Stabler's UST ("So how many partners have you slept with, Olivia?").
    • To be fair to Elliot's kids, given who their father is, it's not entirely unexpected that they'd end up a little... neurotic.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Stabler and Blaine in "Fat".
    • Stabler and Fin (depending on the episode), Stabler and Huang, Jeffries and Munch, Fin and Munch (at times, though it's usually more playful than hostile), Stabler or Fin when either is paired up with a detective from another unit, Novak and Stabler (depending on the episode). Notice whose name keeps popping up?
    • Subverted with Benson and Munch, as she generally gets along with him, but pulls some amusing eye-rolls and other annoyed expressions when he starts going off on a rant.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. They come by the butt-load, but they don't seem to make that much difference to the protagonists despite their best efforts.
    • Depends on who is getting the therapy. Munch and Stabler (to a lesser extent, Cragen) are very resistant and only concede in dire circumstances, but Tutuola and Benson have attended therapy willingly.

Fin Tutuola: Just keep at it; the flashbacks will go away. They did for me.

  • There Should Be a Law: To the point where the show isn't even about a sex crime half the time.
  • Too Dumb to Live: In "Personal Fouls", a manager of the basketball star Prince Miller had told detectives he was wearing custom-made prototype shoes. He wore those shoes when he killed a man who would effectively expose the fact that Prince had been sexually abused by his coach years ago.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Melinda Warner in "Shattered"; she resisted passing out and guided Olivia through keeping pressure on her wound and even draining her lung, which was filling with blood after she was shot by an emotionally unstable mother whose son had just been killed.
  • Torture Cellar: "Signature" had a pretty horrific one.
  • Totally 18:
    • The show sometimes treat the fact that a certain character is over 18 as an annoying technicality that make it harder to arrest people for having sex with them.
    • In one episode, the sex is consensual and the woman loves her boyfriend. It's just that she happen to have a medical condition that make her look like a child. The detectives consider her chronological, mental and emotional maturity to be a technicality. What the hell?
    • In another episode, a girl is raped at gunpoint. She looks very young, and throughout the episode she is is consistently portrayed as a teenager who is not yet fully adult - neither intellectually nor emotionally. This is not held against her, instead it simply underscores how vulnerable she is. However, she happens to be 19, so the prosecution must prove that she didn't consent. And of course, the defense has Blatant Lies about the gun as one of their top priorities.
  • Trailers Always Lie: Previews made it seem like Tutuola was going Vigilante Man on the gay-bashers who beat his son's fiancee into a coma; actually the gay-bashers were found fairly quickly and the real story was about a copy-cat.
  • Trapped by Gambling Debts: Random asshole of the week tries to pull this on Rollins. She shows an impressive presence of mind, promptly confessing the problem to fellow officers and seeking help.
  • Traumatic C-Section
  • True Companions: A notable subversion. Sometimes it's as if this lot are a family (there are certainly a few intensely close friendships amongst them, and woe betide anyone who hurts Casey Novak), but actually, they turn on each other pretty quickly. Fin and Elliot are consistently awful to each other, Munch took the sergeant's exam behind all their backs, and there is pretty sketchy support when any of them try a Clear My Name Bunny Ears Lawyer gambit. It shows up when you compare it to something like NCIS: when Tony is framed for murder, they all assume he's being framed and do everything they can to keep him in the loop. When Liv is framed for murder, they all act suspicious and do everything they can to stonewall her.
  • Truth in Television/This Loser Is You: The characters occasionally display or outright express offensive, untrue, or ignorant beliefs about rape and sex in general (see Double Standard for one of many examples). They often reflect offensive, untrue, or ignorant beliefs about rape and sex in general held by people in Real Life.
  • Twincest: Rose Macgowan's con-artist character truly loves her twin brother (it helps that they don't look alike at all).
  • The Unfair Sex: Comes up fairly often, especially in the case of female perpetrators. The episode "Totem" has one of the worst examples: while the detectives come around relatively quickly to the idea that the person who sodomized and killed a little girl is female, it all starts rolling downhill once they find a suspect. The killer is sent to a mental facility without any mention of her going to prison because she was traumatized from being sexually abused herself and was therefore mentally unfit to stand trial. Male perpetrators who use that defense usually earn nothing but disdain from the squad and everyone around them. Further, woman who sexually abused her is stated to be going to jail, but unlike male abusive parents, doesn't spend any time in interrogation, put on trial, or offer a flimsy excuse for the squad to be disgusted by or scoff at.

V - W

  • Vigilante Execution: More than once.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Munch and Fin, to the point of Ho Yay.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Elliot and Olivia, as well as quite a few of the perpetrators.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: The perpetrator in "Outsider" had this as his Freudian Excuse.
  • Wham! Line: End of "Trophy".
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Often pulled on Stabler -- and sometimes, on Olivia -- when going too far.
    • Amaro got this from his wife when she found out he had beaten up her army buddy after basically stalking her for days after he started to suspecting her of cheating. It seems that they're just friends.
  • Who's Laughing Now?: Stuckey the lab rat. Holy shit...
  • Who Writes This Crap?: "Damn, who thinks this stuff up?"
  • Worth It: In "Spectacle", the criminal states that's it worth being arrested and punished for faking a kidnapping and rape because he accomplished what he set out to do: getting the police to focus on finding what happened to his kidnapped brother.
  • Worthy Opponent: The only defense attorney who is consistently portrayed in a positive manner is constitutional lawyer Barry Moredock, who clearly despises many of his clients but represents them anyway for the sake of the constitution. He even becomes a judge later in the show's run.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Used more than once, like the case where a woman has consensual sex with her lawyer and then accuses her ex-husband of raping her... purely out of bitchy spite and to ruin his life. The guy can't prove that he wasn't a marital rapist, loses it and sets her on fire. In her very death bed, she keeps lying to Olivia about how she was "raped". Olivia only finds out the truth casually, as she speaks to the lawyer, and is appalled by how It Got Worse.
    • "Chameleons" has a prostitute perpetrator (based on serial killer Aileen Wuornos) who tries making herself out to be some kind of Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, and it appears to be working with the court, since her victims included guys like a known wife beater and a fellow serial killer. In the end, it's discovered she had lied about her horribly abusive past, and the baby son she claimed to love so much isn't hers; she stole him from the real mother, a random woman she strangled to death.
  • Writer on Board: To simply ridiculous degrees.
  • Wrong Genetic Sex: One episode starts with a rapist getting killed by his victim and the DNA evidence leads the detectives to a teenage boy who just happens to have an ironclad alibi. It turns out his twin "sister" is actually his twin brother; it seems he lost his penis when they were circumcised as babies and the doctors who botched the operation covered their tracks by completing the job and talking his parents into raising him as a girl.
    • Sadly, this is actually Truth in Television: The episode is based on an actual case. Just like the character in the episode, the real man vehemently reverted to a male gender identity as soon as he got the chance. Sadly, the real man ended up killing himself instead of killing the doctor like his fictional counterpart in SVU did.


  • You Look Familiar: Casey Novak; her actress played a one-episode character before Casey's introduction... one of the aforementioned Wall Street higher-ups ladies, in fact.
    • This guy has played an FDNY Captain, a bartender, and a character named Erik Pullham. And that's only on SVU. On Law & Order and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, he has played four additional one-off characters.
    • Ice-T normally plays Fin, but in the in-universe movie Exiled he plays Seymour Stockton, a pimp.
    • The newest ADA, Gillian Hardwicke, is played by Melissa Sagemiller, who made her acting debut in an episode of the first season.
    • Hayden Panettiere has played two different characters within 5 years.
    • Liza Lapira has played two other characters besides a lab tech, see here.
    • Kyle Gallner has appeared on the show as two different characters, in Season 4 and Season 9.
    • Andre Braugher as an attorney. Kinda weird, given that Homicide: Life on the Street exists in the same universe as the Law & Order series.
  • You're Insane!: Elliot to a particularly disgusting pedophile perpetrator who's trying to defend his rape of young girls (and dressing a woman as a young girl to rape her) as "natural". When he calls the "love" he has "natural" as that which [Elliot] feels for his wife, Ell is visibly trying not to leap up and beat the scumbag to death.
    • The prisoners at Riker's do everyone a favor and take him out.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle
  1. To be more specific, when Elliot was a little boy his father deliberately stomped on his diorama (which he and his father worked on) because he moved one of the trees and then called him weak (for crying about the stomped diorama) and a failure (something he apparently called him often).