The Law & Order spinoff has had quite an evolution since its launch on Sept. 20, 1999. "For its entire history, SVU has served as a mirror of attitudes about criminal justice and feminism — not the attitudes of Americans generally, but of the fairly liberal audience it targets," says Dylan Matthews. "In its first decade, the detectives would make light of prison rape and vilify defendants. Today, the show often takes pains to acknowledge the humanity of even suspects who turn out to be guilty." As Matthews notes, "historically, SVU has not depicted the sex offenders targeted by its detectives with much nuance, let alone sympathy." But SVU changed its approach with the Season 17 episode "Sheltered Outcasts." "The episode is the culmination of years of evolution on the show toward a more nuanced and compassionate depiction of sex offenders — one that matches an emerging, more nuanced public conversation on the topic," says Matthews. "The public and the press are starting to acknowledge the horrible effects of sex offender registration laws, the difficult reality that some pedophiles do not want to act on their impulses and need support and therapy rather than punishment, and the ways in which our horror at sex crimes helps drive mass incarceration. And SVU is starting to adjust in turn."