A detective in the Manhattan Special Victims Unit, which investigates sex crimes. She is primarily partnered with Elliot Stabler, until he retires. She is tough, empathetic, and completely dedicated to her job, to the point that she is seen as having no personal life. Her dedication sometimes wreaks havoc on her emotional state as she empathizes with victims of sexual assault, having been the child of rape. She has allowed her compassion for victims of abuse to sometimes cloud her professional judgment and impede her ability to remain impartial. As of the 15 January 2014 episode, she is in command of the SVU squad.
Career Versus Man: In her own words, when men find out what she does for a living, they either "pull away or move in too close". When men are willing to stay with her something will happen to make them leave, either professionally or accidentally. As of Season 14, she is a relationship with Detective Cassidy.
Child by Rape: Her mom was raped, resulting in Benson's birth. In later seasons, when Olivia begins connecting with her half-brother, it's implied that Olivia's mother may have lied about being raped in order to keep Olivia from contacting her father.
Dirty Harriet: Went undercover as a prostitute once, and as a madam later.
Even the Girls Want Her: Not just because of the Les Yay with Alex; in several episodes, women blatantly hit on her. When girls who are watching just to perv on Stabler start making comments about her chest, you know this trope applies.
Hollywood Atheist: Early on, she would occasionally mock the belief in God, Stabler's in particular, in light of all they deal with on a daily basis and her own childhood. This was toned down overtime.
A detective and now a Sergeant in the Manhattan Special Victims Unit. A conspiracy theorist and dedicated detective, Munch is first partnered with Brian Cassidy, whom he thinks of as a kind of younger brother, alternately poking fun at him and imparting (often questionable) advice on life and women. When Cassidy leaves the precinct in 2000, Munch is briefly partnered with Monique Jeffries, and then with Odafin Tutuola. He and the gruff, uncompromising Tutuola get off to a rough start, but gradually came to like and respect each other. As of the Season 15 episode "Wonderland Story", he has retired from the Special Victims Unit, although he has taken a role as an investigator for the DA's office, allowing him to have a recurring role.
Friend to All Children: Though he won't actually admit to liking them, he is very good at working with young children, as well as very kind to them.
Long Runners: At the end of season 14, Richard Belzer will have played Munch for 20 years (and 21 seasons) as a regular on two different shows (along with cameos and crossover appearances on 8 others), tying him with (or putting him one year ahead of, if measuring by seasons) Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane (on Cheers and Frasier), James Arness as Matt Dillon and Milburn Stone as Doc Adams (both on Gunsmoke) as American television's longest running live action character.
Out of Focus: In later seasons. Munch is often underused, Season 9 featured him in only about half of the episodes and overall Munch has missed 65 episodes of SVU compared to just three episodes of Homicide.
Properly Paranoid: He's appeared in an X-Files crossover. With a world like that in the background, he has every right to be a little paranoid.
Put on a Bus: He retires from the Special Victims Unit in Season 15's "Wonderland Story", although Belzer has stated he'd like to return in the future.
Real Life Writes the Plot: According to ThatOtherWiki, this is because every time Munch appears in an episode, the producers have to pay royalty fees to David Simon, author of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, the book which Homicide: Life on the Street is based on. In fact, besides Simon, the producers also had to get permission from Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, the executive producers of Homicide: Life on the Street. Thankfully, both men agreed to waive their royalty rights.
NBC has always had to pay David Simon when Munch made an appearance and yet in early years he made frequent appearances, the problem is not money (which they make tons of) but the fact that the writers just can't seem to write Munch, possibly because they feel they can't live up to Homicide's standards.
What Could Have Been: Originally, upon Homicide's cancellation and after hearing that Benjamin Bratt was leaving the original series, Belzer suggested to Dick Wolf that Munch become Lennie Briscoe's new partner, since they had originally teamed in three Homicide crossovers. Wolf loved the idea, but had already cast Jesse L. Martin as Det. Ed Green.
Almost certainly Actor On Board given the content of his books and stand-up comedy act. Read "UF Os, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have To Be Crazy To Believe" for a good example.
When Belzer was on Homicide he was most definitely a case of Actor on Board, given he described Munch as being 'Me as a cop', and the writers wrote to Belzer's strengths. It's no surprise that the character hasn't lost these traits in his transfer to SVU.
Cap. Donald Cragen
Played By: Dann Florek
The Captain of the Special Victims Unit. As SVU Commanding Officer, he is portrayed as a somewhat stern but understanding father figure to the detectives who work under him, often giving them a great deal of leniency because he trusts their ability to get results. Retires at the end of Season 15's Amaro's One-Eighty, giving command of the Squad to the newly promoted Sgt. Benson.
Badass Grandpa: He's obviously over 50, and he's still capable of handing perps their asses, albeit he does this rarely. Surprisingly, he also refuses to use more force than is absolutely necessary, as he is the most heroic member of the cast.
Berserk Button: As much as he chews them out, he is very protective of his detectives, and at least Casey. After a man brutally assaulted her, he mentioned he'd like to throw the man did it out of a window. Alex, too: when a drug cartel puts out a hit on her, he gives her one of his guns and mentions he already had a friend put the permit in her name.
Hidden Depths: One episode in one of the earlier seasons shows that while he's not an avid video gamer, he's actually a quite talented one, easily beating a game that neither Munch or Fin could get past the first level on.note They were playing the game to get insight into a adolescent suspect who was obsessed with it and had problems separating fantasy and reality. The climax of the game mirrored the crime scene exactly.
A detective in the Manhattan Special Victims Unit. He was raised in Harlem and he served in the United States Army, where he saw combat in Mogadishu. A former undercover narcotics detective, Tutuola replaced Monique Jeffries after she left the squad in 2000. He transferred out of narcotics after his partner was shot. Unfortunately, he ends up cutting off ties with this partner, and his crazy daughter goes on a such murderous rampage that they have to call in Eames and the Anti-Terrorism Taskforce.
Big Screwed-Up Family: Let's see, a gay son who resents him, an ex-wife who was raped by her own father, producing a son who committed murder and got away scot free…, and a brother in law who gets out of jail only to be falsely arrested on Christmas Eve… yep, definitely a nice family.
Disappeared Dad: Fin's undercover work in Narcotics often resulted in him being gone for weeks if months at a time, leaving Ken to essentially grow up without a father, which later caused significant tension between them. Eventually, the amount of Fin's undercover stretches brought he and his wife to divorce.
Fire-Forged Friends: He and Munch used to not get along. In later seasons, they were quite willing to go the extra mile to help each other out.
Heel Realization: The episode "Strain" has him discover that his son Ken is gay, and Fin is initially exasperated about this development. After seeing the grief of another father who was estranged from his gay son and lost him suddenly, Fin realizes that justified or not, he was largely absent from Ken's childhood, and the distance between him and his son will only grow if he cannot accept him. The episode ends with Fin calling Ken.
Hidden Depths: According to the official Twitter Account, Fin enjoys Shakespearan tragedies, his favorite being Cymbeline.
When He Smiles: Fin often scowls and is quite convincing as a tough, intimidating cop, but the occasional times when he has a genuinely happy smile, such as the ending to "Haunted", his face positively transforms.
Det. Elliot Stabler
Played By: Christoper Meloni
A senior detective in Manhattan's 16th Precinct, also known as the Special Victims Unit, which investigates sex crimes. He is one of the original members of the squad. A former Marine and a dedicated detective, he has a 97 percent closure rate, but his dedication can turn to obsession and cause him to take cases personally. His dedication to the job also makes him the target for several IAB investigations during the course of his 12-year career at SVU.
Abusive Parents: Hinted at if not outright stated that his father the sane parent was abusive. Also could be considered this with his own children though he is regretful about it.
Anti-Hero: Though fundamentally good and wishing to protect the public and catch criminals, he bends the law to get it done, frequently brutalizes suspects, and is very bigoted and close-minded on sexuality issues.
Berserk Button: Do not, under any circumstances, mess with his kids (or Olivia) in any way. He has also shown himself to be very protective of Casey as well.
One example had him bash a pedo's face in Just for having an old school picture of his youngest daughter. Justified as the Pedo in question had it on a database designed to basically give other pedo's something to masturbate to so they don't go raping kids for real.
Black and White Morality: Deconstructed in "Nocturne". He finds out that the victim (who was molested by his piano teacher) had molested a young boy himself at his piano teacher's insistence. He knows he's a victim, but he pretty much wants to kill him at this point (for obviousreasons).
A minor example is the fact that bipolar disorder runs in his side of the family. In the episode "Turmoil", he nearly strangles his son Dickie when he answers his question, "Have you lost your mind?", with, "I'm not the first Stabler to do so, am I?".
Characterization Marches On: It's strange to see him in earlier seasons actually spending time with his kids (reading bedtime stories, playing soccer with his daughter) considering his interaction (or lack thereof) with them in later seasons.
Put on a Bus: Starting Season 13. Forced to shoot and kill a teenage girl to stop her from killing someone is pretty much enough for him to retire.
Raised Catholic: "I try to be a good Catholic, try to raise my kids to be good Catholics..." Lamp Shaded that he's not as good a Catholic as he'd like to be. When Olivia questions his Black and White Morality going against Christian teachings of infinite patience and forgiveness, he casually replies, "Jesus was perfect, I'm not."
Semper Fi: Served as a Marine during Desert Storm and has a Marine Corps tattoo on his arm. One suspect even refers to him as a "Jarhead cop."
A NYPD detective who has transferred to the Special Victims Unit from Warrants and Narcotics. Initially, Amaro did not see eye to eye with his new partner, Detective Benson, mainly because she was adjusting to having him as a partner instead of Elliot Stabler. After their rocky start, Amaro and Benson begin to have a mutual respect for each other and work well together.
Actor Allusion: "Secrets Exhumed" begins the same way most Cold Case episodes did, with one character (in this case, Munch) saying that they'd gotten a break in an old case. Munch hands the case file to Amaro.
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Amaro joined the show shortly after Elliot left. Like Elliot, Amaro is a Catholic family man with a tumultuous relationship with his wife. He's also shown himself to be slightly unhinged (pulling a gun on an uncooperative witness), though time will tell whether he goes as crazy as Elliot.
Det. Amanda Rollins
Played By: Kelli Giddish
A detective from Atlanta, Georgia, who moves to New York City to join the Special Victims Unit. Rollins appears to be a detective who is very anxious to do her job, often being told not to get ahead of herself by Detectives Benson and Amaro, and Captain Cragen.
The Gambling Addict: Was heavily in debt to a loan shark who also happened to be a suspect he went to prison so she considers the debt void. She currently attends Gamblers Anonymous.
Fair Cop: Dem cheekbones. Dose eyes. Dat Hair. Even Stephanie March felt threatened.
Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Amanda's sister Kim has substance abuse issues and an abusive boyfriend who she set up to be shot by Amanda (she has a history of threatening him) for insurance money which she forged her sister's name to; she also knows about the gambling debts. When Amanda learns the whole truth and Amaro gets Kim on tape, she skips town along with all of her sister's possessions — literally, the only things Amanda has left is her fridge, an ice tray, and Kim's goodbye note.
Karma Houdini: Deconstructed. So deconstructed. Her gambling debts cause her to stumble into working for the owner of a sketchy gambling parlor, then rescued by an undercover cop working as the owner's enforcer, who gets her involved in the case. It backfires partially as the wife of an involved party gets raped, getting SVU involved and nearly blowing Rollins' cover; when the dust clears, the undercover cop commends Rollins for her work and tells her to stay clean, but a furious Benson, not happy with being put on the spot as a newbie squad commander (including lying to Amaro and Fin about what Rollins was up to), says that if SVU wasn't so understaffed, Rollins would be on her way to a new department. Borders on Pyrrhic Victory, as a matter of fact.
Detective Chester Lake transferred to the Manhattan SVU from the Brooklyn Special Victims Unit at the end of the eighth season and was partnered with Detective Fin Tutuola. He is of Native American ancestry, specifically Mohawk, and speaks proudly of his ancestors, noting that many of them helped to build the city's skyscrapers and subway tunnels. He also used to compete as an amateur mixed martial artist under the name "Naptime", but had to quit after tearing his ACL. Lake suffers from insomnia and often takes walks at night when he cannot sleep.
Broken Bird: Although in this case, it happens during the series, not before it.
Characterization Marches On: It's weird to see her going out of her way for a victim or witness when she wouldn't have given a damn when she first started working for SVU. It's also weird to see her almost never use a connection after her first episode.
Crusading Lawyer: When it suits the plot. Most notably, she goes to Africa in season 11 to work with the ICC.
Older than They Look: 45, the same age as Olivia according to a screenshot in "Ghost" showing her date of birth. Stephanie March is much younger than this, and definitely far younger than Mariska Hargitay playing Olivia, the inversion of this trope.
Commuting on a Bus: Has been in the main cast in two separate timespans, as well as several guest appearances.
Refuge in Audacity: In "Guilt": "So, I violated somebody's constitutional rights. I didn't violate the defendant's constitutional rights, so suck it up and admit my evidence." The judge reluctantly allows it through, though Alex does get a 30-day suspension for this.
Sugar and Ice Personality: Much more sugar as of late, as she's learned to save the frigidness for situations when it's actually useful. Otherwise, do not fuck with her in court, or just seasons 2-4 in general. Because when it comes to ice, she's the queen.
An FBI forensic psychiatrist and criminal profiler, specializing in studying sexual predators and their victims.
Badass Pacifist: This man has been in the room with many psychopaths, and more than one has tried to kill him. This has not stopped him from doing his job once.
Berserk Button: Endangerment of the mentally ill. Has a rare loss of temper, leading to a public shouting match, when Stabler deliberately sends a paranoid-schizophrenic suspect into a violent psychotic breakdown in order to get information. Not only could this have hurt the suspect, it could have cost the both of them their jobs had Casey Novak not risked her own job to cover it up.
When a pedophile rights group in "Hardwired," claims that persecuting them is no different than homophobia, "Pseudoscience like this insults my intelligence as a psychiatrist and my humanity as a gay man."
Characterization Marches On: In his first appearance, Huang sports glasses, a perv-stache and his interest in the criminal mind seems vaguely prurient. An episode later, he's glasses-less, clean-shaven, his hair is immaculate, and he's a sensitive and trusted confidant to Olivia.
Jurisdiction Friction: Huang's position as a psychiatrist and a member of the FBI occasionally puts him at odds with the rest of the team; on the other hand, he also readily uses FBI resources to help them. Seems to be just as much a personality conflict with Stabler as anything else.
Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: In one episode, the detectives were faced with a man who ran a rehab clinic for teenagers, yet kept his patients hooked on heroin to get money from the parents. There was a drug that could instantly cure one patient, in particular, of his addiction, but it was illegal. Huang had the drug administered to him anyway, then turned himself in. He got thirty days suspension, but it was Worth It.
The Shrink: Incidentally, he can hop between all three subtypes depending on the episode.
The main Medical Examiner for the SVU, she has a snarky personality and varrying levels of importance - she's the only cast member to have been promoted to opening titles and still regularly appear after leaving them.
Ambiguously Bi: Hinted at in her first few episodes. Casey is shown to be a very Tomboyish individual, riding her bike to work, wearing hoodies in the office, and being awfully knowledgeable about fishing (fairly innocuous). Then it's revealed she plays softball (slightly less innocuous). And then, this exchange with a witness happened:
Ian: James used to always talk about how happy he was that he was gay. He said guys are so much more fun.
Casey: *laughs* Yeah, I agree with James.
Anti-Hero: Frequently bends the rules in order to do the right thing- or at least what she thinks is the right thing.
Beauty Mark: One of the many benefits of being played by Diane Neal.
Broken Bird: Specially because her schizophrenic fiancé was drug-addicted and abusive, and and after she finally kicked him out, he died in the streets.) There's also the episode in which she gets the crap beaten out of her by a man angry that she's prosecuting his sister's rapist.
Ms. Fanservice: What results when a former model with a raspy voice plays a character that wears a lot of tight skirts. Especially in later seasons when the makeup department started layering on the eyeshadow.
Refuge in Audacity: She subpoenaed the Secretary of Defense. Arthur Branch was not amused.
Retcon: Her disbarrment, despite being stated on screen as such, was eventually declared a censure later on down the line, likely so she can have further appearances. In fairness, the character who delivered the news could very easily have gotten wrong information/made an assertion based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever.
Greylek's assertion about Casey is totally in line with her character.
Indeed Elizabeth Donnelly's exact words were "censure, possible suspension."
Shoo Out the New Guy: Gets put on the bus rather quickly in "Lead" note Her only and final appearance is in the episode's Cold Open and replaced by Cabot. And the season hadn't reached the halfway point.
Temporary Scrappy: Was brought on after Casey's censure and suspension at the end of the previous season, didn't endear herself to fans very much, was replaced with Alex in "Lead", mid-episode.
What the Hell, Hero?: Goaded a suspect into attacking her, just so she made sure she didn't get away with her alleged crime.
A.D.A Rafael Barba
Played By: Raúl Esparza
The latest A.D.A. to work with the SVU, Barba is a bit more fierce than his predecessors, and usually less willing to bend the rules for a victory, unless it's personal- such as allowing Benson to lie on the stand during her kidnapper's trial. He's also a little… eccentric, with his flashy clothes and occasional vacations.
Ambiguously Gay: Speculation is rampant as to whether he's gay or bisexual. The one consensus seems to be that he is definitely not straight. The coordinated (and pastel!) suspenders, pocket squares, and ties certainly don't help.
Ambiguously Bi: Since October Surprise confirmed that he is indeed attracted to women, this is more likely.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: His charm is rather like a shark's — beautiful and deadly. And he's not exactly the nicest person around. But every so often, his softer side slips through.
Jerkass Façade: Seems to have become this instead in Season 15. He actually tears up while giving a summation in a murder case based on Treyvon Martin, and he promises a rape victim that he's in her corner and that he's only pushing her hard because defense will. Unlike in his first episode, he goes softer on her when she needs it. He also has become close to the squad, especially Olivia. He still acts tough in court or when challenged, but otherwise, he's really not a Jerkass anymore.
Barba: I'm already on my fourth cup. (Note that this scene takes place early in the morning, and throughout the day he is seen drinking at least two more cups.)
And in another episode:
Rollins: (After Barba talks fast enough that the detectives can't get a word in edgewise) You ever think about going off caffeine?
Barba: That would be a no. So, why are we here?
Mutual Envy: With his childhood friend Alex Muñoz. Muñoz is jealous of Barba getting a scholarship to Harvard and leaving their old barrio; Barba is envious of him because his mom said Alex would one day be the mayor of New York but never said that about him, and because Muñoz married the girl Barba loved (and probably still loves).
The One Who Made It Out: Grew up in an extremely poor barrio in the Bronx with his two childhood friends, Alex Muñoz and Eddie Garcia. Eddie and Alex stayed in the barrio, and Alex "single-handedly saved the neighborhood", while Barba took a scholarship to Harvard and never looked back. Not only does Alex resent him for this, it's implied that fellow Cuban-American Amaro disproves as well. And once Muñoz gets charged with possession of child pornography and solicitation of a minor because of Barba, he gets the poor people who supported Muñoz to turn against Barba as well.
You Look Familiar: Raul Esparza had one-off roles on both the Mothership and Criminal Intent.
Det. Brian Cassidy
Played By: Dean Winters
A detective formerly employed by the Special Victims Unit. He started out as a naive newcomer to the squad, but he couldn't take the graphic nature of the crimes and transferred to narcotics. Flashforward to the Season 13 finale, and we find him undercover and far less naive. He is now a recurring character, and stuck working at IAB. Oh, and he's dating and living with Benson.
Characterization Marches On: He returns for the Season 13 finale totally different—they might as well be different characters. He went from being the overly passionate rookie to a pervy perp who enables and has sex with underage sex traffickers. He's actually playing a part while undercover, although he's still far more gruff than his first appearances.
There was also the implication that he might have been a dirty cop, although this turned out to be false.
Lawful Stupid: Refuses to back down from targeting SVU officers until there is no chance of success left available.
Windmill Crusader: Simply believes it is a matter of time before SVU cops go bad, and as such focuses on their department in particular. This extends to people who work with SVU, such as FBI Agent Dr. Huang, who the Internal Affairs Board doesn't even have jurisdiction over.
Assistant District Attorneys
Elizabeth Donnelly (ADA Bureau Chief, later a Judge)
Played By: Judith Light
First Name Basis: Frequently goes from "Your Honor" or "Judge Donnelly" to "Elizabeth" when speaking with Alex and Casey on more personal matters.
It's Personal: Steps down from the bench for a case in Season 10's "Persona" due to her connection with the defendant (see Old Shame below).
Idiot Ball: Mistakenly assumed the picture a girl drew of her abuser was her coach. The girl, a terrified nine-year-old child who was browbeaten and pressured by her and Elliot into making the accusation, went along with it to put a stop to it. It actually was the local Jerk Jock, and after Elliot realizes the huge fuck-up, he gets the dude caught.
Because You Were Nice to Me: The reason that Stuckey didn't want to kill Benson, although he was still willing to when she walked in on him about to kill Stabler.
Beware the Nice Ones: Does not take criticism well. At all. Although to be fair: while he was annoying, he also didn't need every single other character in the show bullying him. It eventually gets to the point where even his meaningful contributions get shot down.
Temporary Scrappy: Everyone in the SVU absolutely hated him for being extremely annoying and doing many screw ups (such as calling the press to a crime scene to nearly cutting a body by using his shovel). By the end hardly anyone did not roll their eyes when he walked in. And then he gets dangerous. Thankfully, he's only around for a few episodes.
Fire-Forged Friends: In their first episode together, Benson was devastated because Ellis got a guilty rapist off the hook. By midway through Season 14, after finding themselves on the same side several times, they have come to like and respect each other a great deal.
Played By: CCH Pounder
Played By: Ned Eisenberg
Smug Snake: Often seems to actually take pleasure in getting obviously guilty people off the hook.
Anti-Villain: While he's a defense attorney, he's not a bad guy at all; he's shown to get along with former student Alex and, later, Casey quite well. His biggest concern is making sure his clients get a fair defense; specifically, he takes cases where he feels the defendants are having their constitutional rights violated. Even if he personally doesn't agree with their views, he maintains that everyone has rights under the law. The only thing really "bad" about him is that he's on the opposite side of the protagonists, and this eventually changes when he becomes a judge.
Heel-Face Turn: Not immediately. He starts out serving as the defense for the side opposite the SVU team, but by the time he's a judge, he's not nearly as much of douchebag.
Rules Lawyer: Very strict on his constitutional law interpretations.
Smug Snake: Comes off this way at first. However, he does temper this with being a Graceful Loser, and being willing to admit when he's only defending his client due to a legal interest and does not approve of their actions personally. For example, when defending a Neo Nazi who killed a Jewish child and a black child on a playground:
Casey: Have you had a conversation with him?
Barry: Yes, and I find every word he spews morally repugnant. But his speech, despicable as it may be, doesn't entitle anyone to trample all over his constitutional rights, now, does it?
Played by Marcia Gay Harden
Love Makes You Crazy: Killed her ex's fiancee when she got pregnant. Granted, said ex told Dana to get an abortion when she got pregnant and dumped her shortly thereafter...
Running Gag: Whenever Dana arrives, Elliot gets hurt: first time, Elliot got shot by a neo-Nazi; second time, he was knocked out by a bomb; third time, Dana actually hurts Elliot as a result of a bullet ricocheting and hitting him in the arm. The only reason he wasn't hurt in her later appearances was because he was Put on a Bus.