Law & Order: SVU Episodes Inspired By Real Crimes

When Dick Wolf created Law & Order in 1990, the purpose of the series was to fictionalize current headlines, and show the process of solving these crimes from the perspectives of the prosecutors and detectives. There have been six spin-offs of the original series (so far), but none as popular as Law & Order: SVU. After 22 seasons, fans are still tuning into the NBC drama that focuses on the NYPD unit that investigates sexually based offenses. Mariska Hargitay has played Olivia Benson from the beginning. Once a sincere detective partnered with the high-strung Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), Benson now tenaciously runs the SVU with a dedicated team of detectives who maintain a tough exterior in the face of very horrific crimes. 

Several SVU episodes have been based on actual cases that were plastered across magazine stands. From the downfall of pop stars and professional athletes, to the grim circumstances of the wealthy, the two decades of this Law & Order franchise have given audiences a dramatic retelling of the news. Here are a few compelling episodes that were inspired by real crimes.

Prominent family drama on SVU

In 1992, Hollywood director Woody Allen was accused of abusing his then 7-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan, in the Connecticut home of his ex-wife Mia Farrow, as CNN reported. Though the accusations were investigated, Allen was never charged. Months before his ex-wife brought forth these allegations, Allen's affair with Farrow's adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, was exposed. On season 15 of SVU, the episode "Reasonable Doubt" fictionalized the abuse case against Allen. 

In the episode, Bradley Whitford plays a famous TV director named Frank Maddox. He's very aggressive in the way he commands his set, and this domineering personality spills over into his personal relationships. His ex-wife, Catherine Summers (Samantha Mathis), a once-famous actress whom Maddox considered his muse, accuses him of abusing their 7-year-old daughter Chelsea in the laundry room of her home. Much like Allen and Farrow, who collaborated on several of his films, Catherine's rise to stardom grew from her collaborations with Frank. But what stung Catherine most was the reveal that Frank was sleeping with her youngest sister Rose; in real life, Allen had an affair with — and later married — Farrow's adult adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. During the trial, photos he took of a teenage Rose were leaked to the press by Catherine's middle sister Mavis, who had also been assaulted by Frank as a young girl. In the end Frank was found guilty, but avoided prosecution by fleeing to France with Rose, similar to filmmaker Roman Polanski, another famous director whose career was tarnished by a sexual abuse scandal.

Rage in an elevator

In February 2014, footage of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice appearing to punch his then-fianceé Janay Palmer and drag her unconscious body from the elevator of an Atlantic City casino went viral. Soon after, Rice was arrested and indicted on charges of third-degree aggravated assault. Palmer, who stood by Rice's side throughout the scandal, married Rice the day after his indictment. 

On the season 16 SVU episode "Spousal Privilege," footage caught a professional football star named A.J. Martin (Chad L. Coleman) arguing with his girlfriend Paula Bryant (Meagan Good) after a sports banquet. After they argue in the stairwell, the video cuts to Martin dragging Bryant's unconscious body out of the stairwell. A tabloid site pays the building security for the missing footage that shows Martin punching Bryant in the face. He's arrested, and like Janay Palmer, Bryant stands by his side, disregarding the help offered by Detective Benson. Also mirroring the Rice scandal, Bryant quickly married the football star. Despite Martin's pledge that he was sorry, remorseful, and never meant to hurt his wife, the jury finds him guilty. 

Rice's indictment never went to trial because he entered a pretrial intervention program that would have him focus on his rehabilitation. But, several months later TMZ released the full video (via TIME) of the elevator incident that showed Rice spitting on, and striking the mother of his child. He was cut from the Ravens, and indefinitely suspended from the NFL.

The predatory billionaire

Jeffrey Epstein was a New York hedge fund billionaire who socialized with celebrities, politicians and athletes. He cozied up to royalty and gave millions to Ivy League schools. His private jets, homes around the world, and powerful connections kept much of the dark, and criminal side of his life a secret. In 2005 Epstein was accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl, but a plea deal allowed him to still work from his office. His troubles only worsened after this arrest and more young girls came forward with similar stories of assault. In early July 2019 Epstein was arrested and sent to New York's Manhattan Correctional Facility, while he awaited trial. By the end of the month Epstein committed suicide in his cell. 

In season 21 of SVU, the show aired two episodes that fictionalized the Epstein story. "Can't Be Held Accountable," shows a young girl being manipulated and assaulted by a New York millionaire named Steve Getz (Vincent Kartheiser). He and his accomplice convince her to model for his athleisure brand, and over time she becomes a sex worker at his upscale parties. Her father's (Nicholas Turturro) growing suspicions about Getz make him lose control. In the next episode, "Must Be Held Accountable," the father kidnaps Detective Rollins in an attempt to pressure the NYPD to arrest Getz. Once all of the evidence is gathered, Getz is arrested and sent to prison, where he takes his own life in his cell.