Law & Order Viewers Have Something Awesome In Common

Photo: Bobby Bank/ Getty Images.
With certain other TV shows tackling subjects of sexual assault without much, um, tact, Law & Order remains the (often melodramatic, but) brightly shining star in the crime-show world. And now, new research confirms that frequently watching the show is associated with having more accurate views of rape and its survivors. The study, published last month in the Journal of Health Communication, examined how much people's views about sexual assault differ based on the crime-focused shows they watch. To do so, the researchers asked 313 undergraduates how often they watched the various versions of Law & Order as well as the many CSI and NCIS editions. Participants were also surveyed about their views on sexual assault (including whether or not they believed common myths about rape) and how likely they were to adhere to consent with a partner. Results showed that participants who reported watching Law & Order shows (not just SVU, btw) more often were less likely to believe rape myths. So, for example, these viewers would be less likely to agree that "a woman who is raped while drunk is at least somewhat responsible." These viewers were also more likely to speak up and refuse unwanted sexual activity — and to stop sexual activity if their partner didn't consent. Regularly watching CSI or NCIS did not have the same significant association with these beliefs. Instead, watching a lot of CSI was associated with being less likely to seek consent or to adhere to a partner's consent (or lack thereof). Finally, frequent NCIS viewers were less likely to say no to unwanted sexual activity. Although it's tempting to think that watching the show might teach us about these ideas, this was just a correlation — not an experiment that proves a cause and effect. So, it could just be that people who already hold certain views about sexual assault are more likely to watch a show that encourages and spreads those beliefs. Either way, though, this is a good reminder that what we watch has a lot to do with how we think about the world — and it seems like frequent Law & Order viewers can actually feel good about their binge-watching habits.

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