'Law & Order' could help improve society's attitudes about rape

Good TV doesn’t just impress and enthrall us, research is finding.

It can actually make us better people.

A new study from Washington State University adds to that growing body of evidence with its finding that watching “Law & Order: SVU” could help people see the fallacies behind popular rape myths.

Those who watched “SVU,” more than those who watched other popular forensic shows like “NCIS” or “CSI,” were better at refusing unwanted sexual activity and noticing when a partner didn’t offer consent for sex.

“Given the ‘Law & Order’ producers’ conscientious efforts to not glamorize rape and to portray punishment of the crime, they have essentially created a program that could be used to reduce sexual assault,” the researchers write.

In their experiment, the team first surveyed 313 college freshmen about their TV-viewing habits. They separated people into three groups: those who watched “Law & Order,” “NCIS,” and “CSI.” Then they asked people to give their opinions about a handful of popular rape myths.

Among them:

  • “If a woman is raped she is at least somewhat responsible for letting things get out of control.”
  • “I would stop and ask if everything is ok if my partner doesn’t respond to my sexual advances.”
  • “I would refuse unwanted sexual activity from my date even if it may destroy the romantic atmosphere.”

By and large, the people who said they watched “Law & Order” believed less in the myths. People who watched the other crime shows were more likely to believe in them, disagreeing that they’d refuse unwanted sexual activity if it meant ruining the mood and more often siding with a victim-blaming mentality.

Causality isn’t rock-solid.

The true picture could be that people who watch “Law & Order” are already more aware of rape myths, and they are simply more likely to watch “Law & Order.”

The researchers were optimistic the shows did leave an impact — even if that has somewhat dire implications, since “CSI” tends to outperform “Law & Order.”

“The ‘CSI’ franchise frequently depicts sexual assault in ways that objectify the victim and reinforce common rape myths,” the team writes. “This study’s findings indicate that depicting sexual assault in this manner may promote behaviours that are not conducive to healthy sexual relationships.”

So if you’re torn between which show to watch, consider the effect TV can have on your attitudes and well-being, and side with “SVU.”

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