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14 Female Characters In The Law & Order Universe Ranked By Strength

The police procedural "Law & Order" began as a single series in 1990 and has since spun a whole television universe of crossovers and related shows. The series follows detectives and prosecutors as they crack cases, apprehend suspects, and seek justice for victims. Although most original cast members were male, the popular franchise has become more inclusive. Female characters officially joined the main cast lineup in Season 4 of the mothership series, and women continued to occupy those positions in subsequent seasons.

Today, every series in the franchise has featured confident, capable female characters that lend their unique perspectives to both the "law" and "order" sides of the equation. But, of course, not every character is created equal. While some female "Law & Order" characters are excellent examples of their positions, some have flaws that keep them from being as dynamic as others. Nevertheless, these strong female characters symbolize the positive impact women can have in male-dominated fields like law enforcement.

14. Detective Nina Cassady - Law & Order

Although female prosecutors became commonplace in Season 4 of "Law & Order," the detective team lagged behind in representation. However, that changes when Detective Nina Cassady (Milena Govich) joins the 27th precinct in the Season 17 episode, "Fame." Cassady is a young, fiery detective who nabs her spot on the homicide team after a highly publicized shootout at a local salon. She comes to the precinct against Lieutenant Van Buren's (S. Epatha Merkerson) wishes, and the two immediately butt heads over Cassady's lack of experience. 

Cassady's strong personality and take-charge approach to police work could have made her a strong character, but her combative nature and inability to take direction become her downfall. She has a seemingly uncontrollable temper, and her partner, Detective Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin), frequently has to rein her in during investigations. Furthermore, she is constantly rude and abrasive, spending more time scowling than solving crimes. Detective Cassady is a refreshing departure from the all-male detective lineup, but her problematic behavior made her unpopular with viewers. She disappears after Season 17 but goes down in history as the first and only female detective in the mothership series.

13. ME Elizabeth Rodgers - Law & Order

Medical examiner Elizabeth Rodgers (Leslie Hendrix) may only be a supporting character, but she is one of the most recognizable faces in the "Law & Order" universe. Rodgers appears in four franchise series as a talented, straightforward professional that solves the mystery behind how victims die. Even when detectives push for quick autopsy results, she remains dedicated to her tried-and-true process and performs her job thoroughly. She is often first on the scene, greeting detectives with essential facts that get their investigations off to a solid start.

Despite being an essential part of the investigative process, Rodgers has limited personality development. Although she does display some emotion whenever she's on the witness stand, her composure rarely breaks. She excels at snappy comebacks and facetiousness and has an affinity for crime novels, but viewers learn little else about the medical examiner. Moreover, like many recurring characters, she falls victim to seeming one-dimensional in many of her onscreen appearances. The only exception is in "Criminal Intent," where her relationship with Captain Danny Ross (Eric Bogosian) borders on flirtatious. Nevertheless, Rodgers' ability to hold her own in the often male-dominated world of law enforcement is admirable.

12. ADA Alexandra Cabot - Law & Order: SVU

The best ADAs in the "Law & Order" universe never shy away from decisive action, and Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) is a prime example of her position's potential for greatness. She has an impressively high conviction rate and often finds clever ways to secure victories. In addition, Cabot is a true advocate for victims and their families, and "Law & Order: SVU" features multiple instances of her going above and beyond to achieve justice for others. For example, she takes a leave of absence after the Season 11 episode, "Witness," to help Congolese rape survivors.

Although Cabot's passion for advocacy is admirable, some of her other personality traits detract from her status as a great prosecutor. For example, Cabot sometimes relies on nepotism to win cases. She comes from a judicial family and thus has close connections with several judges. Though her actions never truly constitute prosecutorial misconduct, her tendency to rely on certain judges does give her an unfair advantage. Furthermore, though her take-charge demeanor serves her well in the courtroom, Cabot doesn't have quite as much emotional range as some other female ADAs.

11. Lieutenant Kate Dixon - Law & Order

Lieutenant Kate Dixon (Camryn Manheim) had big shoes to fill as the commanding officer of the 27th precinct, but she won points for likability. Dixon is an empathetic, even-keeled officer with a firm sense of justice. Although generally calm, Dixon quickly reprimands her detectives if they step out of line and never hesitates to speak her mind. In addition, she is sensitive to the plights of victims and their families and has a special knack for connecting with children. For example, one major highlight of her early tenure is the Season 22 episode, "Camoflague," where she uses American Sign Language to communicate with a deaf girl at the precinct (Manheim later spoke about the "vital" importance of deaf representation in the show).

However, Dixon needs to receive more screen time to be as strong as some of her law enforcement counterparts. Her character development has been relatively slow in the "Law & Order" reboot, and fans still have much to learn about the new commander. Her backstory details have barely trickled into the present-day storylines, so the root of her principles deserves more clarification. Nevertheless, she is a compassionate, righteous leader who can handle any case that comes across her desk.

10. Detective Megan Wheeler - Law & Order: Criminal Intent

"Criminal Intent" features many talented female detectives, and Megan Wheeler (Julianne Nicholson) is one of the most memorable. Despite her youth, Wheeler has a talent for building successful partnerships. She is soft-spoken and subdued, but her ability to read people helps her gel with hot-headed Detective Mike Logan (Chris Noth) and eccentric Detective Zach Nichols (Jeff Goldblum). She builds amicable relationships with nearly everyone she meets and displays a refreshing sense of humility about her inexperience. Wheeler consistently provides the quiet balance needed to keep investigations on track and excels at interrogating suspects.

However, Wheeler's best qualities are also her most significant challenges. For example, although she builds successful professional connections, her reserved nature makes it difficult to develop deep bonds with others. For example, in the Season 6 episode, "Players," audiences learn about Wheeler's father, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. It's an obviously emotional episode for Wheeler and could be a chance for her to open up to her partner. Instead, when Logan offers her support, Wheeler hides her feelings. Her refusal to be vulnerable with others keeps her from being a stronger character, and her stoicism sometimes causes her to fade into the background.

9. ADA Abbie Carmichael - Law & Order

At the beginning of Season 9, EADA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) welcomes one of the most headstrong ADAs of the series to the prosecutor's office. Abbie Carmichael (Angie Harmon) joins the team in the season premiere, "Cherished," with impressive credentials, including a near-perfect win record in her previous position. Her political views are far more conservative than the rest of the prosecutors, but being outnumbered doesn't stop her from voicing her opinions. After several effective but reserved ADAs, it's refreshing for many fans to see a more outspoken female attorney like Carmichael in the DA's office. She makes an excellent opponent for Jack McCoy, who is known for his stubborn dedication to his principles. 

Carmichael's one major downfall is her close-mindedness. She has firm beliefs about how prosecutors should handle cases and often struggles to consider opposing views. This habit can make her off-putting for some viewers, but some cases provide a suitable challenge to her preconceived notions about justice. For example, Season 9's "Punk" demonstrates that Carmichael can reassess her beliefs when needed. Carmichael reencounters a woman she previously prosecuted, but she sees her in a new light by the end of the episode.

8. Junior CP Alesha Phillips - Law & Order UK

Ambition is crucial to succeeding as a prosecutor, and Junior Crown Prosecutor Alesha Phillips (Freema Agyeman) has plenty to spare. She earns her place among the more experienced prosecutors on "Law & Order: UK" through perseverance and ingenuity. Even when a case seems impossible to win, Phillips goes the extra mile to ensure victims get the justice they deserve. Throughout the series, she is a reliable voice for those who can't always speak for themselves.

However, Phillips sometimes suffers from a lack of restraint that needlessly puts her in harm's way. For example, in the Season 1 episode, "Alesha," she goes rogue when the investigation of a gynecologist threatens to throw cold. Determined to see him convicted of assaulting his patients, Phillips brings a hidden camera with her to an appointment at his office. Unfortunately, her well-intentioned scheme has two horrible consequences. Not only does the doctor assault her, but he nearly gets away with his crimes due to her unorthodox investigative methods.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

7. ADA Serena Southerlyn - Law & Order

The mothership series slowly adds stronger and stronger female ADAs to the lineup, but few have eclipsed Serena Southerlyn (Elisabeth Röhm). ADA Southerlyn is a dedicated advocate for victims, standing up for their best interests even when her counterparts don't agree. McCoy finally meets his match in Southerlyn, who never backs down from a fight with the much more experienced prosecutor. She can be overly idealistic sometimes, but it takes courage to be openly compassionate instead of solely focused on trial wins.

Southerlyn is also a memorable character because of her famous last words. In her final episode, Season 15's "Ain't No Love," she asks if the DA's office is firing her because of her sexual orientation. Since viewers learned less about Southerlyn's personal life than other characters, this revelation was a complete surprise. However, it is undoubtedly brave to proudly display her identity in her final moments. Although her orientation doesn't play a role in her tenure at the DA's office, the omission does make her the first (and only) openly lesbian member of the prosecutorial team.

6. Detective Amanda Rollins - Law & Order: SVU

When it comes to determined, reliable detectives, few members of the "SVU" squad can hold a candle to Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish). Before her Season 24 departure, she was a permanent fixture on the team for an impressive ten seasons. Although she has an outstanding arrest record and can hold her own in most circumstances, Rollins is far from a perfect character. However, she is always willing to admit her mistakes and improve herself. For example, in Season 13's "Home Invasions," the "SVU" team learns that Rollins has a gambling problem. While this could have derailed her career, Rollins owns her shortcomings and seeks treatment.

Detective Rollins is equally humble and hardworking in her personal life, raising two girls essentially on her own. Her daughters give her a soft spot for young female victims, who she fearlessly defends at all costs. For instance, in the Season 24 premiere, "Gimme Shelter — Part Two," Rollins gets shot protecting a witness and nearly loses her life. She thinks nothing of heroically jumping in front of a bullet to save the young girl, despite the obvious danger. Though she understandably experiences lasting trauma after the event, her strength and bravery in this life-and-death situation are undeniable.

5. Sergeant Ayanna Bell - Law & Order: Organized Crime

Some characters, such as Sergeant Ayanna Bell (Danielle Moné Truitt), seem ideally suited for beating the odds. She is the fearless leader of the OCB in "Law & Order: Organized Crime," and she doesn't take her title lightly. Her team specializes in exciting take-downs, successfully dismantling organized crime operations of all kinds. Despite often being out-manned, the OCB is always well-maneuvered thanks to Bell's expert ability to play to her team's strengths. Her senior detective, Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), often plays by his own rules, but Bell can reel him in when necessary.

Unfortunately, success does not come easily for Sergeant Bell. She works hard to build a solid team, but the long hours negatively impact other parts of her life. Behind the scenes, she makes numerous personal sacrifices to keep the OCB going. In Season 1, her marriage slowly crumbles, culminating with her wife's choice to move out of their shared home in the finale. In Season 3, Bell chooses her faith in the team over a cushy promotion but doesn't regret her decision for a moment. Her loyalty and dedication make her one of the best leaders in the franchise.

4. Detective Alexandra Eames - Law & Order: Criminal Intent

There's a fine art to building a balanced partnership, and Detective Alexandra Eames (Kathryn Erbe) is a master of that skill. Fellow officers often describe her "Criminal Intent" partner, Robert Goren (Vincent D'Onofrio), as a brilliant detective. However, he is also a loose cannon that rarely follows the rules. It takes a special kind of person to empathize with those who are easily misunderstood, but Eames has a nurturing personality that balances perfectly with Goren. She believes in his investigative abilities and never hesitates to stand up for him. For instance, when Goren goes undercover to investigate abusive prison conditions in Season's 7 "Untethered," Eames helps him keep the operation a secret for as long as possible. 

Detective Eames simultaneously supports her partner and smooths over his transgressions by successfully navigating office politics. She instinctively knows when to fall in line and when to push boundaries, which earns the trust of multiple police captains during her tenure. Although the detective has a restrained, quiet nature, she commands respect from her fellow officers by treating everyone fairly. Furthermore, Eames handles personal tragedies in stride without any impact on her professional performance. For example, she uses her husband's death in the line of duty to fuel her police work instead of letting it hold her back. 

3. Lieutenant Anita Van Buren - Law & Order

As the first female supervisor for the 27th precinct, Lieutenant Anita Van Buren is a ground-breaking character. She holds her position for 16 seasons, making her one of the longest-running characters in the mothership series. Van Buren is equally reliable behind a desk and in the field, using her instincts to get the truth out of suspects and wrangle her sometimes difficult detectives — even hotheaded Mike Logan (Chris Noth) and stubborn Rey Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) are no match for Van Buren's expert leadership. She excels under pressure, such as during hostage negotiations or active shooter situations. 

Van Buren is loved and respected by her fellow officers and builds a solid relationship with the DA's office. However, beneath her admirable professional exterior, Van Buren fights a difficult private battle in Season 20. After receiving a cervical cancer diagnosis, audiences watch her balance treatments with her demanding work schedule. She hides her diagnosis for most of the season, but the 27th precinct eventually gets wind of it and holds a fundraiser in her honor. Though she initially resists help, the fundraiser is a heartwarming scene that brings her character's storyline (and the mothership series finale) to a fitting close.

2. ADA Connie Rubirosa - Law & Order

When ADA Connie Rubirosa (Alana de la Garza) joined the "Law & Order" cast in Season 17, viewers couldn't have predicted what an enduring character this young prosecutor would become. Rubirosa offers a perfect balance of compassion and conviction, staunchly defending victims and sticking to her principles at every turn. She blends into the DA's office perfectly, acting as the voice of reason for her impassioned counterpart, EADA Michael Cutter (Linus Roache). She is also among the longest-running ADAs of the mothership series, holding her position for four seasons and helping her office achieve a high conviction rate. 

Her prosecutorial skills and ability to see all sides of a situation make her a popular character with many fans and critics. As a result of her popularity, Rubrisoa lived on after the mothership series finale. Instead of her storyline coming to a close, she began a new chapter in a different part of the "Law & Order" universe. First, she lent her skills to the "Los Angeles" team as Deputy District Attorney for eight episodes. Later, after that short-lived spin-off was canceled, Rubirosa resurfaced for a Season 15 episode of "SVU." Few other characters have the proven staying power of Rubrirosa, especially in the world of procedurals.

1. Captain Olivia Benson - Law & Order: SVU

Captain Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) is the dynamic powerhouse at the heart of "SVU." Over the years, she has also appeared in multiple crossovers for the "Law & Order" and "One Chicago" franchises. She begins the series as a detective but slowly climbs the ranks with her investigative skills and knack for connecting with victims. As an assault survivor herself, Benson empathizes with and advocates for others, turning her trauma into a steadfast determination to capture perpetrators.

Aside from her empathy, Benson's greatest strength is her resilience. No matter how harrowing the events or her professional or personal life become, she consistently performs at her best. Starting in Season 15, Benson adds "mother" to her list of titles when she becomes the court-appointed guardian of Noah Porter (Skyler Dubow). Many people would struggle to balance parenthood with the demands of being a police captain, but just like in her professional life, Benson repeatedly proves that she is up for the challenge.