Mike Tyson on 'Law & Order: SVU': Should a convicted rapist guest star on a sex crimes show?

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mike-tyson-law-order-svu.jpg"In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories."

So begins every single episode of "Law & Order: SVU," a long-running, beloved drama about sex crimes and the measures the NYPD goes to in order to convict the offenders. Lead actress Mariska Hargitay has been so deeply moved by her work on the show that she founded Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization established to provide support to survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse.

Now, NBC has tapped boxer and real convicted rapist Mike Tyson to guest-star in a key February sweeps episode. In 1991, 25-year-old Tyson was convicted of the rape of 18-year-old beauty queen Desiree Washington. He served three years in prison after pleading not guilty to the crime.

Tyson will play Reggie Rhodes, a murderer on death row whose crimes may have stemmed from childhood abuse. Originally, the episode was set to air on February 13, the eve of One Billion Rising, a global event supporting rape and abuse survivors. Following protests from fans who feel that casting Tyson on a show which prides itself on supporting victims and survivors, not perps, is out of line. NBC moved the episode's airdate to February 6 in the wake of protests.

But many fans feel the episode shouldn't air at all. Marcie Kaveney, a rape survivor and sexual assault advocate, started a Change.org petition urging NBC to re-cast the role. It has over 13,000 signatures.

"I'm sorry that she has a difference of opinion, but she's entitled to it," Tyson tells TV Guide. "I'm sorry that she's not happy. [But] I didn't rape nobody or do anything like that, and this lady wasn't there to know if I did or not. I don't trip on that stuff. I'm not trying to get rich and famous; I'm just trying to feed my family. Why should they care? Since I'm clean and sober five years, I haven't broken any laws or did any crimes. I'm just trying to live my life."

"As an advocate and a survivor, my heart aches at the thought that this man gets a free pass because he is famous!" Kaveney writes. "I can't even begin to imagine what this news would mean to his victim."

Here are more comments from viewers:

"As a rape victim myself, I see no need to support the rights of a sexual predator, nor giving him a platform that may well serve to reignite his passions. I think Mike should just stay down for the count...and NBC should exercise the proper judgement and leave him there."-- Michelle E., Lowell, MI

"As a survivor of Domestic & Sexual Abuse it really is disturbing to know that such an influential show could make this terrible casting choice. I believe you should be seriously concerned with the impact it will have on your audience. Especially those who are victims/survivors as well. It's a shame that fame outweighs values. You can do better!"--- Chasity F., Honolulu, HI

"I am a survivor and I will never support the glorification of any public figure or individual alike who is a rapist or abuser. This is damaging to all of those who have worked hard on healing themselves from their past attackers as well as the individuals who are still trying to figure out how to go on. By airing this episode, you would be telling society that rape, convicted or otherwise, is okay and that is acceptable without consequences...You should be ashamed to have even employed him for this acting part in the first place."--- Kelsa W., Davis, CA
Photo/Video credit: NBC