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Preview: “Law & Order: SVU” Asks How Pedophile Rights Are Different From Gay Rights

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102209 1807 PreviewLaw11 Preview: Law & Order: SVU Asks How Pedophile Rights Are Different From Gay Rights

Is pedophilia, the sexual attraction some adults feel for children, an unchosen sexual orientation? If so, is it discrimination to criminalize consensual sexual relationships between adults and children?

These are some of the questions asked by “Hardwired,” a particularly provocative episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit running night on NBC.

The show begins like a typical episode, with a child’s sexual experimentation with another child leading to an investigation of both his wrestling coach and his step-father, who first befriended his mother (played Rosie Perez) while she and the boy were both in a homeless shelter.

When it becomes clear that one man is guilty, it eventually leads to an investigation of the leader of a “pedophile rights” activist group, Our Special Love. When irrefutable evidence is obtained against the man, he and his lawyer (played by Jeri “Seven of Nine” Ryan from Star Trek: Voyager) decide to fight back not by denying the charges, but by arguing that pedophilia is a sexual orientation, like homosexuality, and that, like GLBT people, he’s the victim of unfair prejudice and discrimination. The lawyer makes many of the same arguments that GLBT rights groups have used, even going so far as to invoke those struggles.

Pedophilia “is part of the normal continuum of human behavior,” she says.

“They shame children into feeling guilty about what was a healthy relationship with an adult,” the pedophile himself says while testifying. “They make normal children into victims.”

This all prompts the show’s regularly occurring character Dr. George Huang, played by out actor B.D. Wong, to finally come out to the show’s viewers, saying the pedophile’s argument “insults my intelligence as a psychiatrist and my humanity as a gay man.”

Meanwhile, the prosecutor points out that children, unlike adults, are incapable of giving any kind of actual “consent” for sex — an argument that one of the show’s storylines spells out quite dramatically.

The show also goes out of its way to portray one pedophile as being interested in boys while the other is very definitely only interested in little girls.

“In the popular media, pedophilia and homosexuality are often merged into the same thing,” says Neal Baer, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit‘s showrunner and executive producer. “So we wanted to be really clear and take a stand that says, no, they’re very different. That’s why we had a gay man take offense at their defense.

“It just seemed logical and right for [B.D. Wong's] character to say, ‘Wait a minute.’ Have the writers always thought he was gay? Yes. Have they avoided saying it? No. It’s sort of been implied. But it doesn’t really come up in the work place unless it comes up.”

That said, Baer says there are no plans to mention the character’s sexual orientation again.

As for the pedophile’s rights storyline, Baer says that “we always try to start with a question that will lead to different opinions. This question was, ‘Is pedophilia hardwired?’… We obviously don’t take the side of the pedophiles, but we do take the side that it’s hard-wired, and [ask] what do you do about it?”

The storyline, and the fictional group Our Special Love, is based on a real-life pedophile rights group, Newgon, which espouses many of the arguments featured in the episode.

As is pretty usual with these crime shows, “Hardwired” crams a lot of plot into a single hour, which means that the most provocative part of the episode – the courtroom scenes – are only about ten minutes long.

And sure enough, a plot development in the last act makes it so the show never really has to answer the difficult questions it raises.

Still, it’s probably only natural for a show about sexual crimes to take on the 50-year-old, though still completely insignificant “pedophile rights” movement. And given that opponents of GLBT rights continually claim that granting any civil rights to sexual minorities will inevitably lead to civil rights for pedophiles (and rapists and beastialists), it’s appreciated that the show clearly makes the distinction between consensual relationships between same-sex adults and pedophilic ones — though that’s a distinction that many anti-gay viewers will undoubtedly ignore.