Why Law & Order (Yes, the Show) May Be Good for Society

Don't feel guilty for binge-watching SVU – it's educational.

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If you're a fan of Law & Order, chances are you have a better understanding of sexual consent than those who prefer to watch CSI or NCIS, according to an October 2015 study.

Researchers at Washington State University (WSU) found that people who watch TV programs in which sexual predators are caught, tried and punished may be more likely to respect sexual consent and refuse unwanted activity once they turn off the TV and head out into the real world.

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The researchers surveyed 313 college freshman about their specific crime-show viewing habits —whether they watched Law & Order, CSI or NCIS — as well as how they would respond in various sexual situations.

"They reported their intentions to seek consent, [like] 'I would stop and ask if everything is okay if my partner doesn't respond to my sexual advances,'" explains lead researcher Stacey J.T. Hust, PhD, associate professor from The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at WSU.

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The students also reported on whether or not they would refuse unwanted sexual activity (e.g. "I would refuse unwanted sexual intimacy with my date even if it may destroy the romantic atmosphere"), and adhering to consent ("I would always stop the first time my date says 'no' to sexual activity").

Law & Order fans were less likely to believe rape myths (think: "she asked for it" or "a husband can't rape his wife") and more likely to respect sexual consent and refuse unwanted sexual activity.

"In contrast, watching CSI was associated with lower intentions to seek consent and lower intentions to adhere to decisions related to sexual consent," Dr. Hust says.

Why? Hust and her team think it might be because CSI and NCIS viewers don't see the predators being punished for their crimes.

"These findings aren't terribly surprising and they actually make intuitive sense," says Robi Ludwig, PsyD, psychotherapist, reporter and broadcast news commentator. "Any popular show that has an educational component about sexual predators, sexual crimes or abuse will make it easier for the public to learn how to protect themselves. They are learning while being entertained. And that's a very powerful and positive combination — especially when it's regarding a topic some people may feel uncomfortable discussing publicly."

The WSU researchers believe other crime shows that show punishment for sexual deviant behavior (Dateline, 48 Hours, To Catch a Predator) could also have the Law & Order effect.

Dr. Ludwig agrees. "It all depends on how the show explains to the viewer what is a crime, how to protect oneself via life choices and when in personal situations with potential offenders," she explains. "The viewer can role play along with the victim and practice what they would say or do if they are ever in that dangerous situation."

Doink doink.

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