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The Story Behind The Controversial Ridicule Episode Of Law & Order: SVU

"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" has always been the most talked about show in the "Law & Order" franchise. Since it premiered in 1999, the show has remained widely popular, and with an 89% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, that hasn't changed. Earlier this year, the show entered its 24th season and appears to have no intentions of slowing down. Despite the show still coming up with new content, it already has the claim of being one of the longest-running shows of all time.

Something about this powerhouse of a show just resonates with people. It may be one of the best shows to reference when keeping track of how the world has changed in the decades it's been on the air. Over the years, "SVU" has grown with the times. The creators and writers behind the show pay attention to social climates and progressive changes in culture. More diversity, more inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters and the sort of crimes that befall them, and more emphasis on how heinous these crimes actually are have made the show something special.

"In 1999, the way we talked about sexual assault, about who the perpetrators are, about who the victims are, was radically different from the way the dialogue goes today," said Amanda Green, "SVU" writer, producer, and technical advisor (via Jezebel).

Adaptable and well-rounded, "SVU" even focuses on a female protagonist who ascends from detective to captain. Mariska Hargitay's Olivia Benson is the only original cast member still on the show and she might be one of the most recognizable female TV leads of all time.

Despite its raging success, "SVU" isn't free of controversy. The entire show deals with victims of crimes that are sexual in nature, and since the show adapts to the modern era, sometimes viewers react poorly to what they're seeing. For some, it's too much. The sensitive topics of this show aren't for everyone. That's why viewer discretion is advised at the beginning of each episode!

The Plot of Ridicule

One episode that touched on a particularly sensitive topic dates all the way back to 2001. "Ridicule" was a stand-alone episode from Season 3 that told the story of a male stripper named Peter Smith who claimed that he was raped by a young woman named Sydney Green and two of her friends, Pam Adler and Amelia Chase.

Sydney's death seemed to be an autoerotic asphyxiation accident. During their investigation into Sydney's death, Olivia Benson and her partner at the time, Elliot Stabler, learn of what Sydney did to Peter and track the male stripper down. Believing that he may have been involved in her death due to his claims that she sexually assaulted him, they question him, but he's got a solid alibi.

The detectives investigate Peter's rape claims throughout the episode, though it seems to cause quite a divide between Benson and Stabler. Benson, taking the claim seriously and following through on a proper investigation, can't seem to get through to her partner. Stabler has serious doubts that Peter's story could be true. Controversially believing that men could not be victims of rape by a woman, he keeps looking for reasons to dismiss Peter's claims altogether.

During the trial against Pam and Amelia, it comes out that Peter filed a civil suit for $5,000,000. Peter claims that he did it to get the names of the women who assaulted him because the police wouldn't help him. He never said anything about the civil suit because he was afraid that it would make him look like he was just after the money, and he didn't want Stabler to drop his case.

This discovery prompts the detectives to look into Sydney's death again. Returning to her room with Dr. Warner, their experienced medical examiner, Dr. Warner is able to determine that Sydney's death was likely staged. They find Amelia's fingerprints at the scene, and at the end of the episode, she's arrested for Sydney's murder. Sydney was going to give in to Peter's demands, and Amelia didn't want that to happen because it would incriminate her. Pam faced a third-degree assault charge for her involvement with Peter's attack, but nothing more.

The Controversy of Ridicule

At the time, the concept of a man being a victim of sexual assault at the hands of a woman was not taken seriously. Even today, these claims are still disputed and met with disregard for the victims' experiences. Considering this episode aired over 20 years ago, it's hard to argue that the ridicule (hence the title of the episode) the victim would face would be intense. Even one of the detectives working on Peter's case did not believe him.

Having Stabler doubt Peter the entire episode highlighted what an issue this actually was. When someone who has sworn to protect people and dedicated his life to hunting down horrible criminals turns his nose up at a victim, there's a serious problem. During the episode, Pam Adler's attorney even tries to have the case dropped on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional in this particular area. Legally speaking, a woman can't rape a man, basically.

This episode kicked off a debate on what it meant to be a victim of a crime such as this. It brought about a discussion that desperately needed to be addressed, but not everyone was prepared to have that conversation. Unfortunately, some viewers felt the same way that Stabler did, but that only heated the debate and emphasized the need for the episode to exist.

Many people who worked on the show spoke out about this episode and the controversies around not only "Ridicule" but the entire show.

During an interview with Jezebel, show-runner Neal Baer said, "We didn't do things to be controversial. We did things to explore issues that people weren't talking about. I was always looking for the ethical issue." In addition to "Ridicule," this addressed many early complaints about the show's existence. People claimed the show didn't need to exist because it was just exploiting victims of these sorts of crimes. The graphic nature of the show unsettled many early viewers.

"The whole nature of the real SVU is crimes against children, crimes against women, sexual abuse, and so on, and men always seemed kind of left out. There were a few lines [in the episode] where people were like, oh you should be lucky, which is not the right way to look at any kind of sexual assault. It's wild because it seems like a million years ago, but also nothing has changed," Diane Neal, the actor who played A.D.A. Casey Novak also commented on the episode.

Despite the controversy lingering around this episode and all of the arguments it caused, it became clear that the creators of not only "Ridicule" but the entirety of "SVU" cared deeply about the topics that they presented to their audiences. This show may not have been easy to stomach for everyone, but the issues that were brought up in every episode were important. As Neal Baer said, they were drawing attention to issues that weren't talked about enough.