Series: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
"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."CHUNG CHUNG
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 & Order
and Det./Sgt. Munch
. There have been numerous Cross Over
events with the other Law & Order
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
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 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)
- 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
- Cragen: alcoholism (since he is a recovering alcoholic and card-carrying member of AA)
- Huang: Pseudo-psychology (deceives people that need treatment and insults his intelligence), doctors abusing their power, gay-bashing.
- Warner: unethical medical practices
- Rollins: Rape and sexual assault. Also gambling.
- Amaro: Cheating and deception; also violence against women, being the child of a domestically abusive relationship.
- Barba: Racism/class issues. He also seems especially protective of younger people, willing to fight for them long after he would have moved on from any other case.
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.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
SVU is currently the only American show of the franchise still in active production, having survived the demise of its parent, Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury, and LA.DOUM-DOUM
Provides Examples Of:
open/close all folders
- Ascended Extra: M.E. Warner, Dr. Huang.
- Asshole Victim: In Signature, a male victim is found alongside a female victim of a particularly sadistic Serial Killer. The detectives theorize that he had the bad luck to come across the dump site in the act. He was actually the killer, and was gunned down by The Profiler as revenge for the murders, and for driving her mentor to suicide.
- Attempted Rape: Olivia. She was saved by Fin, in the episode Undercover. Olivia is also nearly raped not just once, but twice by the same person: William Lewis in Season 15.
- Not to mention all the cases that have involved it.
- Baby-Doll Baby:
- They find a women walking around the park with a plastic baby doll. She says that after god took her real baby he gave her one who could never die. They take the baby from her and refuse to give it back until she says whether she kidnapped a real missing baby.
- In another episode, a woman who'd suffered brain damage in a bus accident lost the ability to recognize her real daughter's face, treating the girl as if she were an impostor. Instead, the woman became obsessed with an online video game, and fixated on the virtual "child" of her online avatar as her "son". When the police take her and her boyfriend into custody for neglecting her real daughter, she cries and yells because they'd hauled her away from the video screen when her "son" was in in-game danger.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jolene Castille, a cooking show host, restauranteur, and barely-concealed racist. She disallows her black employees from using the restaurant's bathrooms or serving white diners, she gets visibly upset when Fin touches her arm, and she tries to guilt Rollins about putting a fellow Southerner in jail for what she did. "Down home, they'd be givin' me a medal." What did she do? Shoot a sixteen year old black boy who happened to fit the description of a rapist targeting white women her age. He didn't do it.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Plenty of instances of this pepper the show, but notable ones that particularly affected the characters include:
- 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!
- Batman Gambit: Ace. D.A. Marlowe shows the team footage of one of the cases' important witness and evidence being destroyed by a car bomb. So the team focuses on a crooked doctor who goes on to torpedo the entire case against a mafioso after claiming his attorney is in cahoots with the suspect. Turns out, the Feds found the bomb and orchestrated the ruse to appear the witness was killed while Marlowe has everyone else focus elsewhere on the case. The ruse also manages to deceive the mafioso as he is unable to intimidate the witness, as her parents were brought to the USA to prevent his associates from killing them in revenge.
- 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.
- The detectives and ADAs often make mention of prison rape when interrogating suspects. This turns around and bites Liv in the ass in "Perverted" when one man that she interrogated and was later convicted was raped in prison: he believes Liv arranged for him to be raped, and in revenge, has her DNA fabricated when he gets out so he can frame her for murder.
- Berserk Button: Don't threaten Stabler or Amaro's families, just don't.
- Don't ask not-Chris Brown who's texting him, especially if you're his girlfriend.
- Don't abuse Rollins' sister Kim. Kim uses this to her advantage and sets up her abusive boyfriend to be killed.
- Don't mock Liv when it comes to the fact that she's not a mother. She may just find a reason to lock your ass up.
- Do not under any circumstances abuse your powers as a judge to overturn a guilty verdict Rafael Barba has fought tooth and nail for.
- 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 premier.
- 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 Watching: CCTV footage is very useful (though not to the extent of, say, Law & Order: UK (yet)).
- Big Sister Bully: A particularly chilling example in "Stranger". Nikki repeatedly mentions insulting her sister Heather about her weight and calling her a "heifer", most importantly on the day she ran away and was never seen again. In a twist, it turn out that Heather never ran away, nor was she kidnapped: Nikki pushed her down the chimney stack years ago so she wouldn't tell their parents about the latter's drug habit.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: The Bernardis. A psycho mom who bullies her daughter's best friend to the point of tears (and admits to having been a teen mom herself), said daughter getting pregnant on purpose with a schizophrenic 21-year-old man, and a son who castrated said 21-year-old man and set him on fire because he thought he raped his sister.
- The main cast for most of the show has familial problems of their own, too, to say the least. Olivia is a Child by Rape, had an alcoholic mother, and has a half-brother through her rapist father who always finds himself in some kind of trouble. Elliot's mother suffers from bipolar disorder, causing them to become estranged; his daughter, Kathleen, inherited this disorder, accounting for her misbehavior in early adulthood. Munch's uncle is mentally ill, and his father committed suicide. Finally, Tutuola's undercover work caused his wife to leave him and caused a schism in his relationship with his son (who is gay); his ex-wife was also raped by her father and had a child Darius, who went on to commit murder.
- Bilingual Bonus: Munch can speak or understand (at least) English, Russian, Greek, and Yiddish. This has come in handy on more than one occasion when a non-English-speaking witness has tried to pull a fast one on the detectives.
- Ditto Huang with Chinese and Latin. Hilariously, he corrects the Latin translation of practicing Catholic Stabler.
- Amaro and Barba are both native Spanish speakers. Amaro often speaks Spanish to suspects or victims, and Barba and Amaro have had an entire scene speaking Spanish to each other.
- Bittersweet Ending:
- "American Disgrace": Sweet because the real victim was exonerated, bitter because his reputation is ruined (he'll always be a serial philanderer at best and an accused rapist at worst), his sponsors have abandoned him, being accused of rape — even falsely — is not going to help him in his custody battle, and the woman he is in love with just revealed she aborted his baby because she believed the rape allegations.
- "Pornstar's Requiem": Sweet because the rapist was found guilty and mainly because the victim didn't wind up dead (who didn't tense up the second she said she could walk herself home or when she left that goodbye video on her computer?), bitter because no one could get over the fact that the victim was a porn actress so she was effectively abandoned by her parents, kicked out of school, and to top it all off the judge threw out the verdict because basically the rapist didn't act like a rapist while she has many rape-fantasy videos. In the end she gave up and abandoned herself to porn because "when I say stop, they stop"; she's last seen about to film a gang-bang with about a dozen large men.
- 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.
- Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: An episode dealing with elder abuse was set in one of these.
- Blond Brunette Redhead: The ADAs. Cabot (blonde), Novak (redhead, then blonde, later redhead again), Graylek and Barba (both brunettes).
- 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, Amanda. 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.
- Until the episode Learning Curve.
- Though they do act much more like buddies than fiancees.
- Well, except for the fact that Alejandro calls Ken "mi amor".
- Doctor Huang as well. His coming out was teased to be a big deal, but it was only brought up in one more episode and he has never been seen in a relationship or mentioning a past one.
- 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 presented in such an annoying manner they snap at him anyway.
- Chewing the Scenery: Sharon Stone does this in damn near every scene she has as ADA Jo Marlowe. It's particularly egregious in Shattered.
- Cold Reading: Done to the cops by the villain in "Pure."
- Commuting on a Bus: Many former cast members, most notably Cabot and Novak, became Recurring Characters.
- 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.
- Corpsing: In "Popular", Olivia's lips noticeably twitch when delivering a cheesy pun based on student body. An outtake shows Mariska Hargitay couldn't make it through without breaking down giggling.
- Crapsaccharine World: On a smaller scale, the seemingly-ordinary elite academy in "Hothouse" that deliberately instructed its students on how to obtain prescription ADD pills in order to improve their performance, leading to one girl staying up for six days, going insane, and subsequently murdering her roommate. Even before that, it was obvious that the school cared more about its reputation than the well-being of its students, as the headmistress told Benson and Stabler that the aforementioned two roommates were best friends, when in fact they despised each other to the point of one of them asking to be moved to a new dorm.
- Crime Time Soap: Big time.
- Critical Psychoanalysis Failure
- Cross Over: Cragen and ADA Cutter came from original Law And Order, and they got Connie Rubirosa for one episode. Alexandra Eames appeared in two episodes in season 14.
- The first season was practically an expansion of season 10 of Law And Order, with Lenny Brisco, Abby Carmichael, and other mains from the mother ship making several appearances.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: One episode had a gang leader get crushed in a garbage truck. Another had a man get eaten by hyenas.
- Curse Cut Short: Dana Lewis shoots a warning shot at a man who raped her, and calls him "mother...!" before Olivia interrupts to tell her that her warning shot ricocheted and hit Elliot.
- Elliot also calls Paxton a "walking cluster..." when Paxton walks in and tells him she agrees, but "wouldn't have censored herself".
- A milder version; temporary captain Harris is talking about ADA Rafael Barba. Talking about his reputation, he says "guy's got big brass..." and then cuts himself off and says "ego".
- In "Amaro's One-Eighty," the defense lawyer triumphantly declares her opponents will be "tripping all over their...ties," looking as if it is a mighty struggle not to say "dicks."
- Cycle of Revenge: The main theme of "Baby Killer." Elliot even compares it to the Gaza Strip.
- Dark Secret: Too many to count:
- Darius, Fin's stepson, was born from Fin's ex-wife being raped by her father, and her neglect turned him into a monster
- Stabler's mother's bipolar disorder
- Olivia being born from her mother's rape (also the Awful Truth to her half-brother)
- FBI Agent Dana "Star" Lewis murdered her ex-boyfriend's fiancee 30 years ago and "unconsciously" pinned it on the serial rapist/murderer she was chasing at the time; things unravel when the rapist is finally caught and his "last victim" has nothing in common with the others.
- Munch's father committed suicide when Munch was a teenager, and he's been wracked with guilt ever since because his last words to him were that he hated his guts.
- Amanda having something happen, presumably sexual assault or harassment by her captain, back in Atlanta.
- 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.
- Deadpan Snarker: Back when Munch had actual lines. Fin gets a few of these as well. Cragen too, occasionally. Once he came on in season 14, Barba became the team's main snarker.
- Even Olivia has a moment. After a stalker is bitten by his victim's guard dog and arrested without seeing a doctor first, he demands the dog be tested for rabies. Cue "I highly doubt you gave the dog rabies."
- The RDK copycat in "Scavenger" was pretty good at this:
RDK: She got away from him, but not me.
Elliot: Well, she's a sixty-five year old woman.
RDK: Not looking good for sixty-six. note
- Death by Sex: WAY too many times to count, but considering the fact that it's the main characters' job to investigate sex crimes, it's a Justified Trope.
- Death of Personality: An episode ends with Munch's clinically depressed uncle coming off his medication to "kill" himself as penance for murdering a suspect while in a mania caused as a side effect of his (different) medication.
- Deggans Rule: Passed when Fin, Huang, Warner, and Lake were variously promoted to the regular cast; in later seasons, the combination of Fin, Amaro and Barba also cause the show to pass.
- 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.
- There's the unfortunate singer who loves her abusive boyfriend even after he beats her face in and killed her producer/father-figure; after she lies for him to the grand jury they go to the Bahamas where he kills her a few days later over the same thing that caused him to beat her the first time years earlier: she asked who was texting him. She was from a dysfunctional family ruled by her mother's boyfriend; her boyfriend's father was a pimp; one person commented they were, unfortunately, "made for each other".
- Dirty Harriet: Olivia does this twice, albeit briefly, in Season 10. She goes undercover as a prostitute in "Wildlife", and a madam in "Hothouse".
- Dirty Old Man: Julian Cooper in "Avatar" is one; he looks to be in his sixties and his victim is 21. Not only that, but he's basically pretending she's a teenager. He's a particularly destructive version of this trope, as his victim dies as a result of the drugs given to her.
- Dirty Old Woman: Rita Wills in Bedtime
Rita Wills: For you, I'll even say ahh.
- Disposable Sex Worker: Averted strongly. Any character who expresses the attitude that prostitutes don't matter as much as other victims is almost always immediately in Hate Sink territory if not an outright villain.
- Disproportionate Retribution: The episode Juvenile centers around two young teenagers who broke into a woman's apartment, during which the younger one raped and repeatedly stabbed her. Due mainly to the ages of the two perpetrators, the younger assailant, who was the primary actor, is given the relatively light treatment of family court, while the older but less mature boy is tried in adult court, found guilty of felony murder, and is facing a possible life sentence.
- Distressed Dude: 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.
- Believe it or not, in the early episodes, it was Olivia Benson who was the fly-off-the-handle-violent-temper hothead partner and Elliot Stabler who was the stable, analytical, don't-let-it-get-to-you partner.
- 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.
- Empty Shell: Missy in "Damaged" is probably as close to this as a (supposed to be) real person can ever be. "You can't kill me. I'm already dead."
- Enfant Terrible:
- The episode "Born Psychopath" revolves around Henry, a manipulative 10-year old boy who has homicidal tendencies whenever he doesn't get what he wants, to the point where he locks his mother in the laundry room, ties his sister to a bed while nearly lighting his family's apartment on fire, ties a neighbor's kid to a chair in a closet, drowns his neighbor's dog, takes another child hostage inside a playroom, and shoots Amaro in the abdomen. Fortunately, Amaro was wearing a bulletproof vest.
- The episode "Lost Traveler" revolves the real killer Courtney, who shows no emotion except with a mild annoyance that her friend Emma told the truth. When asked why she did it, she simply replied with an emotionless: "Why not?"
- 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's 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 All Along: ADA Paula Foster, albeit her reasons make her something of a Tragic Villain.
- 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.
- FBI Agent Dana Lewis: first appears as "Star," a white supremacist activist, and then proves herself to be a smart and compassionate federal agent, and then a brave and determined rape victim...and then a murderer.
- Fascinating Eyebrow: Expect Olivia to do this Once an Episode.
- Failed a Spot Check: It's ridiculously amazing how many suspects ignore the detectives staking them out in a Crown Victoria Police Interceptor mere feet away from them.
- Equally amazing is the number of times the number of times the detectives can stand next to each other, but need one to point out to the other the evidence or suspect that is in their line of sight.
- 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 of 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 rape is less heinous when it was one female against another, namely a teenage girl who'd raped and killed her sister but had been abused herself when she was younger (she was overruled on the last two).
- Five-Man Band:
- For the first twelve seasons:
- Post Season 12:
- As of the second half of Season 15:
- Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling:
- Olivia and her half-brother, in as much he (and his girlfriend) foolishly ran away after getting in trouble with Child Protective Services rather than wait for the authorities as Olivia told him, which caused them to be charged with kidnapping.
- Amanda Rollins is a straight-edge cop and protective of her sister Kim to a fault. Kim has substance abuse issues and a horrible boyfriend who she sets up to get shot by her sister for insurance money and when it's clear she's going to jail she disappears along with literally everything Amanda owns, from her furniture to her food.
- "Friending Emily": Emily, the younger one, is straight-laced and obedient while older sister Taylor is a rebellious party girl. Unfortunately Emily's obedience is very attractive to a kidnapper/rapist.
- Fin's son Ken and stepson Darius are an extreme version of this.
- 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 good-hearted 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 breathalizer 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).
- Friendly Local Chinatown: Common plots in Chinatown involve The Triads and the Tongs and sex slavery.
G - H
- The Gambling Addict: Rollins, apparently, as of "Home Invasions." She confesses this to Cragen, and is getting help.
- Gamer Chick: Harshly deconstructed in one episode. The detectives learn a young girl had been forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs and almost starved to death due to her mother and stepfather being total game addicts. The mother was a hit by a bus six months previously and is now suffering from a head injury which has led her to believe her daughter was replaced by someone else, and the stepfather doesn't care at all. The two of them are more concerned about their kid in a video game.
- Genre Blindness: You'd think that the detectives would eventually figure out that the first suspect they nab and harangue in interrogate is almost never the actual culprit, especially if they're also telling them what their motives are and how they did it.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: In "Manhattan Vigil", a mother of a kidnapped boy cries out "¡Pendejos!" in her anguish. (That means "fuckers".)
- 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.
- Happens to Fin in an episode where he finds a child's remains in a garbage bag in a dumpster. The viewer only sees Fin recoil in shock and dry-heave before confirming the presence of the body over his radio.
- And in an episode where a young psychopath has drowned his neighbor's dog.
- Groin Attack: In the Season 11 episode "Hardwired", Elliot gets kicked in the groin by a grade school kid. Fortunately, he recovers and quips, "I know why they're called special victims."
- Gray and Grey Morality: Utilized to the hilt in the episode "Doubt", which highlighted the main reasons as to why so many rape cases boil down to "He Said, She Said". The woman claimed her ex-boyfriend (and former Professor) had raped her, while he claimed that it was consensual. Complicating this is the victim's claim that Stabler had sexually assaulted her while escorting her home (he caught her when she'd stumbled), and one of her other ex-boyfriends stating that she was into rough sex, up to and including choking. The episode ends with "We, the jury, find the defendant...", Fade to Black, leaving viewers to form their own opinions.
- Guilt Complex: "Mask" introduces Captain Jackson, a psychiatrist who is looking for a way to cure sexual addiction. This came about from an unfortunate summer where he believes he may had raped his lesbian daughter, prompting the two to become estranged, but can't remember due to his own struggles with sex and alcohol addiction at the time. As it turned out, he actually had consensual sex with his daughter's best friend. The estrangement was because his daughter was pissed that he slept with her first love.
- Halfway Plot Switch: Done more each season.
- For the last three or four seasons, it is rare to find an episode where what appears to be happening in the cold open is at all related to the rest of the episode.
- Harmful to Minors: the unit has to deal with cases like this quite regularly.
- In "Friending Emily" they meet an FBI agent who's only job is to monitor child porn. He may or may not be joking that his predecessor ate his gun at his desk.
- Hello, Attorney!: All the ADAs qualify, but Alexandra Cabot in particular.
- Headphones Equal Isolation: When Elliot and Olivia walked in on a suspect who was listening to his stereo via headphones, Elliot gets his attention by turning the volume up.
- Heroic Dog: "Liberties" had a victim's dog bite her abusive ex who was choking and threatening her.
- 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 named Lincoln Haver gets his football career destroyed because he was surrounded by Normative Sex Haters and Olivia accidentally outed him although it turns out Olivia's accidental reveal of the suspect's orientation wasn't the problem; the person who outed Haver was the real murderer, the manager of the football team, who had caught Haver kissing his boyfriend a while before. And Haver's career ended up ruined partly because the investigation revealed he had permanent brain damage as a result of the many concussions he suffered on the field.
- 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.
- A nice aversion occurs in the episode "Strange Beauty," which centers around people into body modification and mutilation. The detectives are a little nonplussed by some aspects of the subculture, but they only get judgmental with people who are breaking actual laws.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Said by the FBI agent (who committed as Vigilante Execution) in "Signature" before blowing her own brains out.
- Stabler was a borderline case of this in later seasons. See "Liberties."
- Hide Your Pregnancy: Why Olivia disappeared for part of season 8.
- Hidden Depths: The Bad Ass 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.
- Hidden Wire: Goes horrifyingly wrong in an episode when a male victim agrees to wear a wire to get a confession out of his madam/the perp. She's making dinner while they talk, and when she discovers the wire she flies into a rage. The detectives, listening in, suddenly hear him screaming in agony and barge in to discover she'd thrown a huge pot of boiling pasta water all over him. In what is perhaps a Continuity Nod, Amaro gets shot down hard by Cabot in his first episode when he suggests using a wire to catch a suspect.
- Holier Than Thou: See Strawman Has a Point. The detectives can be extremely judgmental and close-minded on sexuality, to the point that even perfectly normal fetishes are demonized, and any other branch of law enforcement that has their hands in their case just complicates matters and has no regard for justice. For example:
- "Clock" features a woman who was very young looking to the point she looked underage, and her boyfriend was a convicted pedophile. The detectives were disgusted with this relationship, feeling it was unhealthy and that his only interest in her was due to her looking like a child—however nothing illegal was being done and her appearance aside they were in a perfectly normal relationship.
- As for the Jurisdiction Friction, the detectives often jeopardize investigations being conducted by other departments to further their own, even when the other department's investigation is far more important. Many times their suspects are agents working for the FBI or some other higher branch of authority, and the detectives refuse to back off and often force the other agency to include them. This rarely, if ever, goes well.
- At the same time, when another branch of New York police are assigned to help SVU with their current case, the squad's first instinct is to box them out and handle it themselves.
- Hollywood Law:
- In "Crush", the DA forces detective Benson to arrest a teenage girl on child porn charges (for "sexting" pictures of herself) in an effort to coerce her into testifying against an attacker. When she does so, the DA attempts to drop the charges, but the judge overrules her and sentences the girl to several years in prison. While the end of the episode reveals that the judge was corrupt, this has two problems. First, the arrest was an obvious case of Malicious Prosecution, which is a felony, and was one of the few cases (it's a notoriously difficult charge to prove in most jurisdictions) in which it would be an open and shut case. Second, even in juvenile court, the judge has no power to do any of that.
- SVU has far more. Best one is evidence getting tossed because the man was part of a conspiracy with a lawyer and a thug and knew where the body was. Attorney-client privilege was used to toss it. Privilege doesn't work like that, especially if its a conspiracy a lawyer is involved with, and even more so if a third person who's not a spouse was privy to it as well.
- In "Popular", a nurse cites doctor-patient privilege in refusing to talk with Detective Stabler when she treats a middle school girl who claims her teacher raped her. Captain Cragen, Stabler's wife and even the victim herself give Stabler grief for bothering to do his damn job and investigate the rape; even Stabler treats the whole thing like he's breaking procedure because the privilege is so sacrosanct. Doctor-patient privilege does not cover evidence of a crime: when a medical professional comes across evidence of things such as child abuse, they are required by law to report it to the authorities. A clear-cut admission from their patient would leave them with no wiggle room whatsoever for neglecting their duty in this case.
- In "Manipulated", the detectives use a facial recognition program to compare a picture taken on the street to the DMV records for driver's licenses. The judge later throws this out, claiming that the technology was too inconclusive and all the subsequent evidence was tainted. A person has no privacy expectation in a picture taken on a public street or their driver's license photo, so comparing them to each other cannot possibly be a violation of the 4th Amendment. Without a violation, the tree isn't "poisoned" and the remaining evidence is acceptable. What's more, the unreliability of the technology bears upon its admissibility at trial, but they don't need the computer match at trial-once the computer found the picture, the detectives confirmed it by the eyeball test and the suspect's admission. Even further, they already knew of the suspect because he was the husband of the victim's boss and they had an easy argument for inevitable discovery (they would have recognized him from the photo given time).
- In "Presumed Guilty", even after it was revealed that Fin's ex-brother-in-law had been stopping the attack against Fr. Shea, he is still labeled a vigilante, and the Obstructive Bureaucrat DA says he had no business assaulting someone while on parole, but should have just called 9-1-1. In Real Life, the law recognizes the difference between vigilantism, which is illegal, and defense of a third party, which is not. If you see a crime, such as a burglary or vandalism in progress, and you assault the criminal, or you assault a criminal after a crime has been committed, that is vigilantism. If, however, you see someone being assaulted, you are well within your rights to intervene, even if you literally have to fight off the assailants. (N.B. In some jurisdictions, you had better make sure the person you are helping is actually the victim.)
- In "Her Negotiation", the judge declares a mistrial after it turns out the physical evidence may have been contaminated. This isn't grounds for a mistrial in real life. The defense can present it to the jury and encourage them to ignore that evidence, but the judge wouldn't declare a mistrial, especially if it was only possible, not certain, that the evidence was contaminated.
- In "Psycho/Therapist", William Lewis, who is defending himself and called Olivia as his witness, asks to treat Benson as a hostile witness. In real life, this means asking a witness leading questions; in the SV Universe, this apparently means being allowed to scream at a victim while quite literally foaming at the mouth. Made especially painful by the fact that Barba had been objecting almost constantly before this, but stayed silent the entire time Lewis was screaming at her, up until the end, when he feebly protests that Lewis has crossed the line.
- Homeschooled Kids: Very extreme example where two brothers are homeschooled because their obsessive, possessive and controlling mother wants them until her complete control. She winds up manipulating the older boy into killing his own brother to keep social services from taking him away. In another episode two neo-Nazis homeschool their son.
- Hostage Situation: Escape, Florida, Shattered, Blast, Father's Shadow, "Learning Curve", "Born Psychopath".
- Hypocrite: Sonya Paxton. In the episode "Hammered", she tries a man who claims to not have any knowledge of a murder he committed due to an alcoholic blackout, arguing that his blackout doesn't excuse him because, as she says, "alcoholism is not a disease". It later becomes clear that she's got a drinking problem, herself, eventually arriving to court while drunk and getting her reputation ruined when she failed a breathalyzer test in court.
- The cast of the show can often become hypocrites due to lazy or forgetful writers (with a dose of Protagonist-Centered Morality). The episode "Harm", capitalizing on the Iraq torture scandal was all about how using torture to interrogate subjects is wrong, and not only because it can result in death or long-term injury to those it happens to. This is all taking place in spite of the show making unapologetic use of the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, with even Stabler calling the torturers out for their heartless methods.
- The cast also has trouble with Jurisdiction Friction; whenever some other case is transferred to them and the original handlers are resentful or reluctant to hand over information, the squad will bawl them out over how selfish they are. They're treated as glory-hogs who are acting at the expense of justice. When it's the SVU squad who's having their case taken away from them to a federal agent or higher branch of the police, it's treated as the worst thing in the world, and the team "heroically" go behind their superior's backs to solve things themselves.
- I Ate WHAT?: Elliot's priceless reaction to being told he is about to put a bite of tiger meat into his mouth.
- Also an underscored point of the episode "Beef."
- 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 Take Offense to That Last One: Happens often to the detectives when interrogating a suspect. An example is in "Hate":
Fin: "I've got some words for you—killer, psycho."
Suspect: "Hey, I'm no psycho!"
- Also occasionally happens outside of interrogation, like in the episode "Responsible":
Reagan: "Shut up, you dirty old man!"
Munch: "Who're you calling old?"
- I Was Quite a Looker: Ann Margret's washed up drunk character Rita Wills.
- I Will Wait for You: Played for great creepiness. Backstory: A psychiatrist developed feelings for and seduced a thirteen-year-old patient sent to her by his mother. When the kid was fifteen, he fell for someone his own age and had sex with her. The psychiatrist went to the girl's parents and told them that the boy had raped her. When they pressed charges, she (fraudulently) diagnosed the boy with schizophrenia, and convinced everyone that what he really needed was treatment, under her care, of course. At some point after that, she got pregnant, and prevented him from running away by guilting him with how his father had walked out on him. It worked until a con artist wormed his way into the facility and orchestrated a mass escape. When the boy was found months later, after killing the con artist, the psychiatrist got him placed back into her care and immediately started drugging him. Once everything was uncovered, she accepted a plea for a twenty year sentence. As she was being dragged off, she kept yelling at the boy, who was sitting next to his mother and his child by the psychiatrist, that she would wait for him.
- I'll Kill You!: Spoken word for word by Ann Margaret in Bedtime.
- I'm a Man, I Can't Help It: The detectives generally act as if this trope is a universal truth that's written in stone and handed down by God itself. More than one of their "early-in-the-episode red herring suspects" are only suspects because they said something along the lines of "Yes, believe it or not I actually turned down a chance to have sex when such a chance became available to me", and the detectives react with a "Pshh... right... sure you did, you lying bastard."
- In the Blood: The tragic and criminal pasts of several cast members and guest stars.
- Incest Is Relative: At least three times; one resulted in a child two, actually, but it was unreported.
- Brought Up to Eleven with season 12 where practically every other episode deals with incest in some sort of context.
- Infant Immortality: Averted.
- Insurance Fraud: Rollins's sister Kim sets up her abusive boyfriend to be killed so she can collect his life insurance... that she secretly put on him... and forged her sister's name to (she was gonna share!). When Kim learns that she won't get the money since her boyfriend was killed while committing a felony (Rollins thought Kim was being raped) she changes her story so it looks like Rollins shot him in cold blood. Fortunately for Rollins it becomes clear that the scheme has collapsed so Kim settles for skipping town with all of Rollins' possessions.
- In "Torch" a man becomes a suspect for the house fire that killed his daughters when it's revealed he lit a car on fire for the purpose of insurance fraud before. The theory of the case is that he attempted to burn the house for the insurance money and just couldn't get the girls out in time, leaving him liable for both arson and manslaughter. However, new evidence casts doubt on the fire and the case is dismissed because it was likely a genuine accident.
- 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.
- Iron Lady: Elizabeth Donnelly. Also, Alex Cabot (which causes a LOT of friction between the two).
- It's Personal: So frequent, it became 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.
- The episode "Blinded" has a double dose of this trope: the episode features a child rapist named Saul Picard who was suffering from schizophrenia and badly injured Elliot while suffering a psychotic break, rendering him temporarily blind. Casey ends up botching the ensuing court case to get him declared incompetent to stand trial (even though he wanted to be extradited to Louisiana, where child rape is punishable by death) and sent to a psychiatric facility, due to her experience with a mentally ill fiance some years back that she thought she could help him and Picard. Olivia is quite pissed as a result and rats Picard out to the Feds (so they can extradite Picard to Louisiana) and rats Casey out to Jack McCoy because she, personally, wanted to see Picard convicted and executed as revenge for Elliot without getting her hands dirty. Casey and Olivia confront each other over how they've each been manipulating the handles of this case and make amends by the end of the episode but you can't help but wonder how neither of them got into serious trouble for bringing their personal vendettas to the case.
- 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: "Chameleon" 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.
- Olivia and Alex aren't lacking in the chin department either.
- 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.
- Less Embarrassing Term: Inverted in one episode when they caught a suspect by exploiting his love of doll collecting. Fin tried to build rapport with the guy by admitting that as a child he had played with dolls, too, such as G.I. Joe. The guy corrected him that those were not dolls, they were action figures.
- Like Goes with Like: The episode Snitch has an African man married to a couple of African women and a white one. In the end of the episode it's just him and his black wife.
- Limited Wardrobe: Usually averted, like most live TV shows, but weirdly played straight with Fin's son, Ken, 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 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.
- Longer-Than-Life Sentence: "Hardwired" ends with the leader of a pedophile rights leader who convinced a man to rape his stepson to ten years for accessory, plus two years for every image of child pornography he had in his possession, totaling around 3000 years.
- Long Runners
- Love Makes You Crazy and Evil and Stupid: An 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.
- 'Nother one: FBI Agent Dana Lewis murdered her ex-boyfriend's fiancee in a fit of rage after she learned the other woman was pregnant (when she told him she was pregnant he made her get an abortion and a few months later dumped her and told her he was getting married) and pinned the crime on a serial rapist/murderer she was hunting. 20-something years later the rapist/murderer is caught and, wouldn't you know, isn't really keen on confessing to the one crime he didn't commit, especially since he hates redheads, he used his NBA connection to lure women (the victim didn't care for sports), and he hunted in bars (when he learned his "last victim" was pregnant he wondered why a pregnant woman, especially a kindergarten teacher, would be anywhere near a bar).
- Lucky Bastard: William Lewis, the villain of Season 14's finale and part of Season 15, is this. Almost his entire criminal career hinges on this (that and a large number of Batman Gambits). He's got shades of Magnificent Bastard to him, but he seems to rely more on the fact that everything (usually) seems to go wrong for the police and the DA while they're after him. For example, in the Season 14 finale and Season 15 premiere, he refuses to take a plea for indecent exposure and the charges end up dropped when the witnesses go back to their home country. He then tortures and rapes an old woman, but before she can testify against him, she dies. What little evidence they have turns out to possibly be contaminated by the lab tech, which results in a mistrial. He then somehow finds Olivia's address, catches her when no one expects to hear from her for two days, breaks in without leaving any signs of a break-in, catches a seasoned detective off-guard and causes her to freeze instead of reaching for her gun like she had every other time someone broke into her home, manages to subdue her and drag her down the fire escape without anyone noticing, and doesn't get caught for days. It dips into Contrived Coincidence.
- Lewis' lucky streak is extended later on in the Season 15 premiere "Surrender Benson": After kidnapping Olivia Benson, he brings her to a (seemly abandoned) beach house, where he handcuffs her to an old-fashioned iron-framed bed with the intent of continuing to torture her, rape her and finally kill her. After his first attempt at raping her is interrupted by the house maid knocking on the front door, Olivia is able to break the bedpost that she is handcuffed to and is able to subdue Lewis long enough to handcuff him to the bed while he's unconscious. After he wakes up, he proceeds to verbally taunt Olivia; she wants to kill him but he knows she won't go through with it because she "doesn't have the balls". Olivia is finally pushed over the edge and she picks up the broken bedpost and proceeds to beat William Lewis almost to death. Lewis is lucky in that despite the fact that he receives permanent physical damage, he is still alive. (He is even more lucky when it is explained later on in the season that during the ride to the hospital, he literally died and came back to life a total of 4 times in the ambulance.)
- Made of Explodium: The car that Edwin Adelson drives in "Bullseye".
- The exploding car gambit happens to Tim Donovan in "Loss" as well.
- Mama Bear: Sophie Gerard in Shattered. Do not tell her that her son is dead and not coming back.
- There's also Eva Santiago. Do not molest her son.
- 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.
- On one occasion, the victim couldn't remember the rape since she'd been drugged (the squad only knows because the rapist recorded it) and makes the argument to Liv that she is trying to make her feel victimized while Liv maintains that the woman has to deal with the trauma, even if she can't remember.
- Magical Queer: Fin'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.
- 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, Fin'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 perp.
- 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.
- Fin's son goes by the name Ken Randall, but his actual name is Kwasi Tutuola. Kwasi is meant to sound like the stem quasi, which means "having some resemblance." He has a rather strained relationship with Fin...
- Speaking of which, "Odafin" means "lawmaker" or "establisher of laws."
- Mighty Whitey: Stabler in the Chinatown-centric episode "Debt," especially since the actual Asian-American member of the main cast (Huang) gets shoved aside.
- Justified since they were sending the young Asian woman into a potentially dangerous situation and wanted someone there who could handle himself if necessary. If you might get attacked at any moment, would you want Stabler or Huang at your side?
- 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 Olivia and Dr. Hendrix 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 when Olivia pressures a mentally-ill witness into temporarily modifying his medical routine 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 abusive behavior towards him and the side-effects of said med changes.. 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.
- Mistaken for Gay: Fin, Munch (as well as Fin and Lake) are sometimes assumed to be a couple when they interview potential witnesses without flashing their badges at people, and they usually just roll with said assumption.
- Mood Whiplash: the commercial break cliffhangers have a tendency to lead into upbeat, family-friendly commercials.
- Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: "Harm" deals with a doctor who works with private military contractors to oversee their use of "enhanced interrogation methods" (a fancy way of saying "torture").
- 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!"
- Must Have Caffeine: Almost everyone has moments of this, but the crowner is Barba.
Muñoz: I thought we could grab a cup of coffee.
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.)
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: In October Surprise, Muñoz and Barba have this. Muñoz envies Barba for getting out of their barrio and getting an Ivy League scholarship, while Barba envies him because his mom said Muñoz would be mayor of New York one day, but never said that about him, and because Muñoz ended up married to the girl Barba loved (and still loves).
- 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.
- My Greatest Failure: Captain Jackson, a therapist specializing in sex addicts, pursued his career after a dark period in his life when he, himself, was addicted to sex and alcohol. During this time, his daughter became estranged from him, causing him to believe he had raped her (but he couldn't remember it because alcohol muddled his memory). Turns out he never hurt his daughter, but rather had consensual sex with her friend. The estrangement was because his daughter's friend was her first love.
- Mythology Gag: In Season 15's Gambler's Fallacy, Rollins has to steal a gun from the evidence locker, and masquerades as Criminal Intent's Detective Megan Wheeler. Brought up again when questioning the on-duty cop, when they mentions Wheeler's retirement in 2010.
- Naïve Newcomer: The pilot, while not a formal Welcome Episode, depicts Benson as a very recent transfer to SVU.
- The episode Wannabe has a rookie officer make mistakes while apprehending a rapist that get the case thrown out. The "officer" turns out to be a teenager with a stolen uniform.
- 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 Going Back To Prison: A Red Herring from one case is terrified of going back to prison and being put in solitary because of his previous experiences with solitary confinement. He throws Stabler off a roof when he thinks Stabler is going to arrest him, and even so Stabler is so moved by how obviously traumatized the guy is that the rest of the episode follows Stabler's attempts to keep the guy from going into solitary in prison.
- 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.
- One episode deals with a killing that was inspired by a Grand Theft Auto-a-like called Nten City, complete with a defense attorney arguing that the game convinced the killer to kill that resembles Jack Thompson.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the cases Olivia personally involves herself in, she sometimes unintentionally makes things worse for the victims (See Strawman Ball).
- "Wrath" has 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.
- The episode, "Rescue," is also pretty bad in this case to the point that the constant exclamations that Olivia making everything worse manages to ring true to the viewer. Stabler calls out Benson for not wanting to find Calvin's mother, a rape victim in the case, for fear of losing custody of Calvin. Benson finds Vivian, the mother, high on drugs and arrests her anyway after Cragen told Benson and Stabler to not get involved. They also get a confession before Cragen calls them both out for their disobeying him. Vivian admits to trying to protect her best friend, Sarah, after Sarah comes in and confesses she is really the killer. Sarah and Vivian indeed make bail, only for Sarah to get shot in the head in the garage. Finally the ex-boyfriend of Vivian gets arrested for the murder and Vivian court orders Benson to give up legal guardianship to her ex-husband's grandparents in Vermont while she goes into rehab, the whole time Benson trying to defy the court order and proclaim that Vivian's an unfit mother and basically shouldn't get her son back. So a quick recap: Vivian is high on drugs. She sees her best friend get murdered, her ex-boyfriend get arrested for the murder, Olivia accuse her of being an unfit mother after she put Calvin in Olivia's care because Vivian knew she couldn't raise Calvin, and finally is going to rehab while poor Calvin gets shuttled off to Vermont, an innocent victim whom Olivia has now lost custody of. Nice job, Olivia.
- 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.
- And the time that Cragen 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.
- Although the ending does show the father talking with the boy's foster parents, with the implication that he just gained a set of step-parents.
- 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. This episode was based on the real life phenomenon of being "on the down low" in the African-American community, and people on the down-low likewise rarely admit to being anything but 100% straight.
- 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 perp 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.
- They're still doing this in season 14, somehow—in the episode "Criminal Hatred," the detectives go after a man who picks up and then attacks closeted gay men. Once the perp is found, they dismiss his claims of prostituting himself to women as utterly impossible because he himself is gay and attempt an unorthodox gay-on-gay hate crime charge, never once considering that the dude could be bi. Raul Esparza, who plays ADA Barba, has talked openly about his personal struggles with his gray-area sexuality, and yet none of the characters seem to think of it.
- Noble Demon: One episode features a man who is mockingly referred to as a "good pedophile": he runs a website featuring tame pictures of young children for other pedophiles to enjoy without actually going out and harming one, strictly enforcing its "look but don't touch" rule, reasoning that it keeps real children safe. He's also rather nonchalant about his predilections. He is arrested at the end of the episode for murdering a member of website after he admitted to violating the "Look but don't touch" rule.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Occasionally there are characters based on real-life celebrities such as the Michael Jackson and Jack McClellan 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.
- Not So Different: Amaro and Cassidy, who share similar Jerk with a Heart of Gold temperaments and both worked extensively as undercover operatives, also happen to loathe each other. Cassidy hangs a lampshade on it during one of their arguments.
- Not What It Looks Like: Or what is sounds like in the episode "Sugar", where the only clue the detectives have to the identity of a witness is an online alias.
Stabler: *over a store's PA* "Will the 'Master Baiter', please report to register 1? 'Master Baiter', register 1?"
A homely looking nerd starts walking towards the register.
Benson: *over the PA* "Not a masturbator, the ' Master Baiter '!"
O - P
- Obfuscating Disability: An episode had a woman who had long since made a full recovery from an accident keeping her wheelchair and making herself sick for the sympathy and to control her husband, who she was framing for a couple murders - it's revealed when he shoves her wheelchair into a pool. Just to double up on the trope, she may have been faking the Munchausen's Syndrome as a defense.
- 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 decimates a rape case and gets the defendant acquitted even though the audience saw him do it. It's also rather inconvenient since they both do everything they can for justice, and in the attorney's case that includes threatening to reveal 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Online Alias: One season 11 episode has a woman who goes by "Master Bater" online (she obscures her face and distorts her voice when she films her videos).
- October Surprise, based on Anthony Weiner's adventures as Carlos Danger, gives us Enrique Trouble.
- Only Sane Man: Criminal profiler and FBI Special Agent Dr. George Huang often fills this role 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.
- Rafael Barba inherited this role from Huang after he left.
- 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.
- Open Mouth, Insert Foot: In S 10 Ep 20, "Crush", an interviewee mentions a boxing class.
"But no one's supposed to know about that."
- Opposites Attract: Fin is a somewhat staunch Republican. Munch is a left-leaning Conspiracy Theorist. Both are as thick as thieves.
- Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?: The RDK copycat in "Scavenger" gives Elliot a variant:
RDK: Why detective, is that your phone vibrating or do you just find me terribly exciting?
- Out of Focus: Munch. By the time he retired, he was barely appearing enough for it to be noticeable or meaningful.
- Out of Order: The second episode of season 2 featuring Monique Jeffries occurs late in the season yet is obviously meant to have been much earlier on. Hints include Fin wearing the same outfit as when first introduced as well as actually mentioning Fin's first name. The other episode featuring Jeffries involved her resigning from the force and Fin taking her place.
- 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 Kathleen's drunk driving. The two of them need to be pulled off of each other.
- Elliot was also rather protective of Olivia, as a couple of times he bit Munch's head off for thoughtlessly bringing up Olivia's past.
- 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".
- Pedophile Priest: There was an episode about this, of course. The priest himself was a far more sympathetic character than you might expect, and had a valid Freudian Excuse: he himself was molested by the bishop as a kid. In the episode's final scene, he redeems himself by agreeing to testify against the bishop.
- 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.
- Platonic Life Partners: Benson & Stabler
- Poe's Law: "Raw" has Stabler and Munch trace a murder weapon to a gun shop that turns out to also be the base for a white supremacist group. Of the three workers/members seen during their visit, the most obviously racist of the group turns out to actually be an undercover FBI agent.
- Police Lineup: Several times per season. But by no means once an episode like you'd expect.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Given the nature of the crimes SVU investigates, they encounter many, many perps who fall under this category. For example by subscribing to a gendered Double Standard, regarding some victims as people "no one will miss," or choosing their victims based on homophobic, racist, ethnic, or other forms of bigotry. It's also not uncommon for lesser villains to reveal themselves as jerkasses by making casually sexist or racist comments to the detectives.
- 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 perp, or at least in collaboration. This show loves its melodramatic plot twists.
- Pregnant Hostage: In "Tragedy", Detectives Benson and Stabler try to find a kidnapped woman with a high-risk pregnancy.
- Prison: Every once in a while, one of the detectives must go to a prison and interview a convict in order to catch a perp.
- 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 guard. Fin shows up to help in the nick of time.
- Also happens in an episode featuring a pre-op male-to-female transgender 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 perp, 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 Man Child: Stuckey... or something.
- Punny Name: "Babes" featured a Catholic schoolgirl who cheated on her boyfriend named Fidelia.
- 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. No explanation was given for almost a year, until The Bus Came Back in Father Dearest, and he mentioned that he had been reassigned to Oklahoma City.
- Now in season 15 Munch and Cragen.
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 twice. The first time, she was saved by Fin; the second time, she saved herself.
- 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 offences 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?
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Because of the Real Life NYPD retirement policy, Dann Florek's character was written out of the main cast in Season 15.
- 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.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: You know the guy who replaced Olivia when Lewis escaped was reasonable because when Olivia told him the truth about beating Lewis with a pipe when he was already handcuffed (and not about to attack her like she told the court), his response was "you should have killed him when you had the chance".
- 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 S03/Ep06 "Redemption"
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: This is a Law and Order show after all. Pairings are:
- Stabler (Red) and Benson (Blue)
- Tutuola (Red) and Munch (Blue)
- Tutuola (Blue) and Lake (Red)
- Amaro (Blue) and Rollins (Red)
- 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.
- Relationship Upgrade: Between Detectives Amaro and Rollins, after he's seen walking around her apartment in a state of undress in Season 15.
- 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.
- Similarly, FBI Agent Dana Lewis killed her boyfriend's fiancee: a pretty schoolteacher who wasn't Married to the Job and when she revealed she was pregnant her boyfriend asked her to marry him instead of forcing her to get an abortion and then dumping her months later. The last thing Dana remembers before she realized she was cleaning the scene of the murder was "this girl's never suffered in her life".
- 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 perp'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 "just" assaulted 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.
- Revisiting the Roots: The series was forced by Christopher Meloni's departure to go back to a more rounded set of characters instead of being the Stabler & Benson Show. But as of Season 15, they seem to have stopped and are instead just making it The Benson Show.
- Revolving Door Casting: Are you an ADA? Is your name Cabot, Novak, or Barba? No? Well, nice knowing ya!
- 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: Soooo many. To the point where an SVU marathon on the USA channel was called the "Ripped from the headlines SVU marathon".
- "American Disgrace" scored a trifecta: The Solange Knowles elevator rampage (sudden attack on a famous African-American) combined with the Ray Rice elevator attack (very serious allegations of abuse by an African-American sports star) with a Sterling racism rant on top (rich, older white man slagging off on the very African-Americans who earn him money while being secretly recorded).
- Romanticized Abuse: The show sometimes goes for having their cake and eating it too, denouncing the horrors of sexual abuse while displaying it in almost pornographic detail.
- One episode, named "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 girl's aunt without even informing her husband about it afterwards, though one could argue that there was some heavy implication that the wife was also the subject of abuse and brainwashing.
- Another episode, named "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.
- Room Full of Crazy: The detectives have stumbled into many of these over the course of the series, often of the Stalker Shrine variety. However, the show also pulled a subversion in the episode "Manhattan Vigil," when a suspect's Room Full Of Crazy turned out to be exactly right about the crime they were investigating.
- Rule of Three: Apparently just being Ripped from the Headlines isn't enough, it has to involve three stories: "American Tragedy" combined Treyvon Martin's shooting, Paula Deen's Deep South racism, and the controversial practice of "stop-and-frisk" which disproportionately targets African-American men.
- 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 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.
- Russian Roulette: Lewis forces Benson to play Russian Roulette and they get to the last bullet as rescue team is seconds away. Lewis "wins" by getting the last bullet and shoots himself (splattering gore all over Benson) to ensure that she'll will never forget him.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Many wealthy and powerful perps find that this doesn't play in the L&O universe.
- Secret Relationship: Detectives Amaro and Rollins.
- Self-Surgery: In "Shattered", Dr. Warner is shot by a grief-deranged mother, and has to talk Olivia through the procedure to insert a chest tube so her lung won't collapse.
- Serial Killings, Specific Target: One episode features a man who killed his wife and then killed another woman for this exact reason. However, it doesn't fool the detectives, as they note that the second killing was cold and detached, whereas the original victim died brutally, showing that the murderer had a lot of genuine rage towards the first one, but didn't care at all about the second.
- Series Continuity Error: At the beginning of Season 9, Olivia gets her hair cut. However, in the 3rd episode of the season "Impulsive", Olivia's hair has suddenly grown significantly longer. In the next episode, it returns to it's previous style.
- 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.
- Share Phrase: Being a crime drama, it's only natural.
- "[Suspect], you're under arrest for [offense]. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you."
- "Docket ending [number], people of the State of New York v. [suspect]."
- "I would never hurt [victim]! I loved her!"
- "I want my lawyer."
- "Bail is set at [huge number]."
- "Counselor, control your client."
- "Court officer, remove this man/woman from my courtroom!"
- "Somebody call a bus!"
- Share the Male Pain: Olivia is the most likely to do this, believe it or not.
- Shell-Shock Silence: A pretty eerie example in the appropriately titled Season 10 episode "PTSD": while trying to break up a fistfight, Liv, still working through her near-rape experience from the previous season, is knocked in the head when shoved off. The sounds become muffled as Liv comes dangerously close to reflexively blowing a suspect's head off...
- Ship Tease: With the show running as long as it has, there are plenty of ships for the writers to poke and/or play with. Some major examples:
- Elliot and Olivia don't mind going undercover as a couple now and then, and Elliot's wife Kathleen tells Olivia she's felt threatened by how much time Elliot spends on the job with Benson. Elliot himself says on several occasions that Benson and the job are the only things he has whenever he doesn't have his family, and he doesn't want to lose that. Olivia notably breaks down when Cragen tells her Elliot isn't coming back.
- Fin and M.E. Warner may have been flirting in a Christmas episode in Season 14.
- Shipper on Deck: USA Network itself supports Elliot/Olivia, if the fact that they dedicated an entire marathon to the ship is any indication.
- Shoot the Hostage Taker: In the episode "Debt" the police raid a brothel run by Chinese gang. In one of the rooms a gang member takes one of the prostitute hostage and uses her as as a Human Shield. The prostitute is saved when Detective Elliot Stabler dives through the door of the room and shoots the gang member in the head.
- 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.
- 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.
- Possibly in "Imprisoned Lives" to the novel Room, which also has a young boy with an odd way of talking because his mother (though in the episode he doesn't know which of the women is his mother) was kidnapped as a child and after being born both were hidden in a tiny room.
- The episode "Debt" has shout outs for Mulan, of all things. The Victim of the Week was searching for her daughter, Ping. There are no fewer than three Asian-American actors in the episode who also starred in the Disney film.
- Season 12's "Totem" features Jeremy Irons' character as a doctor (returning from a previous episode) who claims that a woman may have been responsible for the latest rape and murder of a girl. In discussing what kind of women seduce younger people, Olivia brings up "Mrs. Robinson-types."
- One of Amaro's earlier episodes had him looking into a possible link between the crime of the week and a case that went cold years ago, and even remarks to the person digging through the archives that handling cold cases must be pretty difficult. Danny Pino was one of the leads on the show Cold Case before it was canceled in 2010.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Olivia's kidnapper/torturer/wanna-be rapist (she notes he's only attacked older women and young girls, needling him that he's afraid of a "real woman") tells her to shut up with her pathetic story about how her old partner would know what to do with him. She eventually beats him into a coma with an iron bedpost.
- Sins of Our Fathers: In "Reparations", a man rapes a young woman as an act of revenge against her father, who was a clansman involved in the brutal rape of his mother several years ago.
- Smart People Know Latin: Dr. Huang effortlessly steps in to correct a mistranslated Latin word in the episode "Silence". Bonus points because Elliot, who studied Latin as a kid as part of his religion, didn't quite get it. (Elliot translated it as "I have sinned." The correct translation was "You have sinned.")
- Hilariously subverted in a later season when Amaro rattles off a translation of a long Latin sentence for Benson and Cabot's benefit, and a totally unimpressed Cabot replies that she already knew what it meant.
- 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.
- The detectives themselves qualify.
- Slut Shaming: Shows up repeatedly as the defense tries to smear the victim.
- Soft Glass: Averted in an episode where Elliot gets headbutted through a police car window with enough force to shatter it. The blow knocks him out, gives him a concussion, and temporary brain damage that puts him in a short coma, and making him temporary blind when he woke up.
- The Southpaw: A major plot point in one episode; a defining characteristic of the perp was that he was left-handed.
- 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...
- And again in Criminal Hatred, where two men were married in Provincetown. The detectives get one to confess what the other did, only to learn that they are married and they can't use what he told them. Trying to argue that the spousal privilege doesn't apply because they were married out of state before New York recognized same-sex marriages doesn't work.
- Standard Cop Backstory: Olivia Benson is a child of rape, or thought she was, and was abused by her alcoholic mother.
- 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 & finds the guy had laser hair removal done. Smooth Criminal, indeed...
- Strawman Ball: 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.
- 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.
- Monique Jefferies only seemed to exist to get her hackles up anytime Munch said something.
- 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.
- Squick: Invoking this is a major chunk of the premises on the show.
- Sympathetic Murderer: Once a season, if that.
T - U
- 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.
- Again, when it appeared that not-Rihanna's abusive boyfriend not-Chris Brown was found dead it was actually her producer/father figure (not-Jay-Z?) who was killed by not-Chris, and despite all the set-ups for a vigilante execution not-Rihanna wound up getting killed by not-Chris.
- The promo for Psycho/Therapist said this would be "the final chapter of the #Save Benson saga." Then the last scene of the episode showed William Lewis possibly breaking out of prison. Just in time for May Sweeps, too!
- True Companions: A notable subversion. Sometimes it's as if this lot are a family (there are certainly a few intensely close friendships among 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 (though this was apparently because he lost a bar bet with friends and the writers were looking for reasons to lessen Belzer's screen time), 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.
- They've gotten better in more recent seasons. In general everybody is supportive of everyone else when there are issues. (Case in point, everyone goes to bat for Rollins when she's thrown under the bus by her own sister and charged with murder, for Fin when his brother-in-law is unjustly jailed right before Christmas, and for Amaro when his newly discovered son is in danger.)
- Truth in Television/This Loser Is You: The characters 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. One of the most notable examples was in Legitimate Rape, where a congressman Expy of Todd Akin said that it was impossible for a woman to become pregnant from rape. This resulted in her rapist being acquitted because of one holdout juror, suing for custody of the victim's son, and thus forcing her to flee the country.
- Another scarily accurate case when dealing with a teenage rape victim, who had been going through and continues to go through a serious Trauma Conga Line. In order to silence her, the people who want to protect her rapist try and get her arrested, and she winds up getting sent to a privately owned juvenile detention facility. It turns out that the judge who sent her there was a crooked judge, who gets paid to send as many kids there as possible because they get more money that way. This has happened at least once. Thankfully, they manage to get the rapist, and anyone who was involved ends up either dead or in jail.
- Twincest: Rose Mc Gowan's con-artist character truly loves her twin brother (it helps that they don't look alike at all).
- Two Girls to a Team: Benson and Jeffries in Season One; Benson and Rollins since Season 13.
- 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.
- Undercover Cop Reveal: This is how Declan Murphy is introduced and ends up joining the show.
- The Unfair Sex: Comes up fairly often, especially in the case of female perps. The episode "Totem" has one of the worst examples: the detectives, or at least Olivia, initially doubt that a woman can commit sodomy and murder. While they come around relatively quickly, 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 perps 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.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Kim Rollins, full stop.
- Used To Be More Social: One episode had a woman who had been raped by the same man on numerous occasions become this. After the first time, he was never caught and eventually tracked her down again. Even after changing her identity, moving to another state, and becoming a paranoid shut-in, he still found her and did it again.
V - W
- Victim Blaming: Possibly most notoriously, in Alien, where a little boy forcibly tries to kiss the daughter of two lesbians as part of an attempt to "cure her of being a dyke" and, when she refuses, chops off her hair with scissors, all after several months of constant bullying, which the Catholic school authorities ignore because they think homosexuality is wrong and don't think the girl should be attending at all. When she finally lashes out, she gets an unfortunate critical hit and stabs him with a pair of scissors, paralyzing him from the waist down. When all is said and done, the little girl is the defendant-of-the-day, the SVU blames the (Catholic) lesbian couple for not removing their daughter from the school, and the bully is treated as The Woobie instead of a budding sex offender with "attempted corrective rape" and "violent assault with a weapon" on his record.
- Vigilante Execution: More than once. For a while, it bordered on Once an Episode territory.
- Vitriolic Best Buds:
- Munch and Fin, to the point of Ho Yay.
Munch: I'm your Jew?
- Vomiting Cop: Olivia blows chunks in a dumpster in the first episode after talking to a victim of ethnic cleansing. A season two episode had Eliot sick as a dog due to the AIDS medication he was on at the time.
- Weather Dissonance: The season 4 episode "Soulless" is supposed to take place in early May—so what's up with all the snow?
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: The perp in "Outsider" had this as his Freudian Excuse.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Elliot and Olivia, as well as quite a few of the perps.
- Erik Weber, a member of COAP (Citizens Organized Against Predators), a New York-based organization dedicated to protecting children from sexual predators. The group is prone to zealotry, with a tendency to railroad people into getting labeled as sex offenders (such as a mentally-disabled man whose only crime was public urination). Subverted in Weber's case, however: he's a pedophile, himself, and joined COAP to keep the police off his tail.
- Wham Line: End of "Trophy".
- End of "Internal Affairs". "Munch put his papers in. The Mehcad Carter case hit him pretty hard."
- Before that, "Scorched Earth": "Elliot put his papers in."
- 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 it's worth being arrested and punished for faking a kidnapping and rape because he accomplished what he set out to do: to get the police to revisit his kidnapped brother's cold case.
- Huang at the end of Users. He effectively kidnapped a teen heroin addict to give him an illegal drug, Ibogaine, to cure his addiction. When the boy's guardian/quack shrink threatens to report him, Huang says he already reported himself, received a thirty day suspension of his license, and it was worth it.
- Worthy Opponent: One of the only defense attorneys 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.
- Bayard Ellis is a defense attorney, but he's also a close friend to Olivia.
- Rita Calhoun, a former prosecutor, is presented as this. Her first episode makes it seem like she's the same scumbag defender the others are, but later episodes show her sometimes helping the detectives and having a friendly relationship with them.
- Would Hurt a Child: The series runs on the trope.
- 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 perp (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: "Identity" 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, both the real man and his twin brother ended up killing themselves (in separate incidents) 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.
- This lady played two different characters in season 4 and season 5.
- 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 (in season 2 and season 6).
- 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. It works because Frank Pembleton never appeared on SVU and (aside from Munch) never met or worked with any of the SVU characters.
- Lampshaded when Munch greets Ellis in a familiar (and sarcastic) way, and Ellis replies "Have we met?"
- Tamara Tunie appeared as a defense attorney in the Law & Order episode "Deadbeat" before she landed a role in SVU as Dr. Melinda Warner.
- Raúl Esparza was on both the original series and Criminal Intent in the episodes "Blackmail" and "Lady's Man", respectively.
- Lothaire Bluteau seems to be the guy the producers have on speed dial whenever they need a vaguely European-ish creep (although the actor is actually Canadian), having played such roles in three episodes.
- Sherri Parker Lee played a grifter suspect in "Greed" and a protective older sister who was also guilty of assault and murder in "Mother."
- You're Insane!: Elliot to a particularly disgusting pedophile perp 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.