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So You Think You Can Rate a TV Show?

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Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on NBC

(10:00 p.m. ET/PT, 9:00 CT/MT)

Rating: TV-14


The problems confronting the current TV ratings system are two-fold: not only can a program be misrated according to its content, but such misrated shows are often rerun at a later date.  As a result, a show that contains content inappropriate for children can continue to infiltrate the homes of millions of families even after the original air date.


Take the August 7th episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. This episode originally aired on October 10, 2006 and was rated TV-14.  This rating tells parents that the program contains material they may find inappropriate for children under 14—but that is where the information about the content stops.  According to www.tvguidelines.org, the content labels (D, S, L, or V) may be included to “help parents identify the specific content in a program;” but this episode of Law & Order: SVU had none of the necessary descriptors to warn parents of the gruesome content in the show.


Let’s take a look at the content:


A police officer escorts Detectives Beck and Stabler to the crime scene where a mother and her ten-year-old daughter have been brutally raped and murdered.  What is discussed and shown is disturbing:


Officer: “Raped and tortured, side by side.  You ever hear of anything this freaking sick?”

[Stabler pulls the sheet away from the murdered mother’s body.  The mother’s face is shown with packing tape wrapped tightly around it, her arms bound, and her naked body covered in blood.]

Beck: “What is that?  Packing tape?”

Stabler: “Wrapped tight, no way to breathe.  He just looked at her face while she suffocated.”

Beck: “Hands are bound, breasts and genitals slashed…”

Stabler: “A sexual sadist gets off on pain and humiliation; it doesn’t track that he’d cover ‘em after.  Is this how you found them, officer?”

Officer: “They were both naked.  I was trying to be respectful.  I got the sheets from the linen closet.”

[Stabler then pulls the sheet away from the little girl’s face revealing packing tape wrapped around her face and her hands bound with blood all around her.]

Beck: “She can’t be more than ten.”


This scene is shown in the first five minutes of the program, even before the opening credits.  Just this portion of the show alone warrants the “V” and the “D” descriptors because of the depiction of the brutally murdered bodies and the graphic discussion of what the rapist did.  Of course, the rest of the show continues to depict the dead bodies, either in pictorial form or in the morgue, and the graphic discussion of rape continues.


With a TV-14 rating, there are no descriptors to warn parents of the content that is in this episode. 


If you agree that this program was inadequately rated, please write to the TV ratings advisory board at tvomb@usa.net and let them know that the TV ratings once again failed to adequately warn parents about inappropriate content.    


For more information about the TV ratings, please visit http://www.tvguidelines.org/contact.asp


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