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Whose Stories? Victims and Offenders on Television’s Law and Order

Mass Mediated Representations of Crime and Criminality

ISBN: 978-1-80043-759-3, eISBN: 978-1-80043-758-6

Publication date: 28 May 2021


Purpose: This study examines representations of criminal victims and offenders on television’s Law and Order, which ran for 20 years. Law and Order was praised by viewers as a realistic and lifelike representation of the criminal justice system. Given its popularity and perceived realism, Law and Order was likely a major source of information about the criminal justice system, victims of crime, and criminals. Methodology/approach: Utilizing an ethnographic content analysis of 50 episodes of Law and Order, the data include demographic and contextual information on over 1,500 characters. The analyses in this study focus on the sociodemographic characteristics of victims and offenders in total and across time. Findings: Results find that Whites, women, and those from middle- and upper-classes were disproportionately presented as victims. Offenders were disproportionately White, male, older, and from the middle- or upper-classes. People of color were underrepresented in all roles, and Latinx characters were more likely to be portrayed in a negative light. Research limitations: The study lacks qualitative data, which would have contributed to a deeper understanding of victim and offender representations. Originality/value: The study represents the most robust content analysis of one of the most popular crime series of all time. Given the popularity and long running success of the show, it is likely that Law and Order is at least partially accountable for misconceptions and reinforcement of viewer’s misperceptions of what it means to be a “victim” and an “offender.”



Rosenberger, J.S., Callanan, V.J. and Sullivan, D. (2021), "Whose Stories? Victims and Offenders on Television’s Law and Order", Wiest, J.B. (Ed.) Mass Mediated Representations of Crime and Criminality (Studies in Media and Communications, Vol. 21), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 111-128.



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