CFP: Law & Order: SVU Anniversary Panel
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7/14/2019 at 12:56:37 AM GMT
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CFP: Law & Order: SVU Anniversary Panel

Law & Order: SVU and 20 Years of Changing the Culture Surrounding Sexual Assault

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit will make history when it returns to the small screen for a record-breaking 21st Season in September 2019. The police procedural about sexually based offenses will become the longest running prime time live-action series in television history, surpassing Gunsmoke and the original Law & Order that both ran for 20 seasons. The shows lead character, Olivia Benson, and the actress who portrays her, Mariska Hargitay, will also secure a place in TV history. Along with the show, Benson will become the longest-running character in a prime-time action series. In addition to being a very high quality and entertaining program that one would expect from television mogul Dick Wolf, SVU holds a special place in the cultural landscape and has been a catalyst for change in the areas of rape culture, and how society deals with and understands survivors of sexual assault. The show unsurprisingly received additional praise and attention at the dawn of the #metoo era.

When SVU premiered in 1999 it broke ground by fearlessly tackling the then still taboo topics of rape and sexual violence. As viewers welcomed the show into their homes, conversations were started and survivors began to come forward, often confiding in Hargitay through letters. During its 20 year run SVU has inspired generations of viewers to become activists and to choose careers as police officers, lawyers and medical professionals who work with survivors of sexual assault. Today viewers ranging from preteens to the elderly are avid fans of the show and consider Benson/Hargitay to be a hero. Indeed, the line between Benson and the actress who portrays her are blurred as Hargitay has become a prominent anti-sexual assault activist herself. She trained as a rape crisis counselor to prepare for the role, and in 2004 she founded the Joyful Heart Foundation, a leading national organization that aims to change the culture around sexual assault/violence, and supports the healing process for survivors. Hargitay has also been instrumental in the movement to #endthebacklog of untested rape kits, producing and appearing in the important documentary I Am Evidence, working with VP Joe Biden who made a cameo on SVU promoting the cause, and testifying on behalf of rape survivors on Capitol Hill. She regularly makes announcements to her 1.5 million Instagram followers, urging them to donate, support initiatives meant to end sexual violence, and sometimes just making sure everyone is aware of how sexual violence permeates our society. She has over 1k fan accounts that repost her messages, and celebrate Hargitay, Benson and SVU. Many of these accounts are run by members of Generation Z who have great admiration for the 55 year old actress.

This panel seeks papers that celebrate the legacy of SVU while linking the show to the positive ways that it has changed our society. The ways that such a paper could be structured are broad and numerous. They include, but are not limited to textual analysis of specific episodes, the philanthropic work of Hargitay and other members of the SVU team, consideration of the social media presence of SVU, Hargitay and her colleagues, and the study of the audience breakdown of SVU fans. While your presentation should focus on the show’s positive influence, you are welcome to write a balanced paper that includes the ways that the show has been problematic or unrealistic.

Please submit inquiries and proposals, including title, abstract (max. 300 words), 3-5 bibliographic sources, five keywords, and a short bio to Jennifer Zale ( by Sunday, Aug. 10. You will be notified of all final decisions by Aug. 13.          

Last edited Saturday, July 13, 2019

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