On Friday, Vice President Joe Biden will make an unusual personal appearance that will be seen by millions of people later this fall. He’s in New York to tape an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that involves a storyline focusing on America’s backlog of untested rape kits.
Across the country, hundreds of thousands of rape kits—the collection of photographs, medical examination results, and DNA swabs taken when someone reports a sexual assault—sit unprocessed because of resource shortfalls and, perhaps, a failure to prioritize the prosecution of sexual assault. Mariska Hargitay, who is heading into her 19th season playing Detective Olivia Benson on SVU, became passionate about the issue after acting in hundreds of episodes on the theme of sexual violence. She set up the Joyful Heart Foundation, which runs an advocacy program called End the Backlog, focused on drawing attention to this issue.
Biden has also made the rape-kit bottleneck one of his causes. In 2014, he was behind a White House proposal to dedicate $35 million to processing unanalyzed rape kits, and this spring he was honored by Hargitay’s foundation.
Dick Wolf, the creator of the Law & Order juggernaut, loves to have politicians cameo on his shows. During their terms in office New York Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg both appeared on the original Law & Order, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel played himself in the premiere of Chicago Fire, another of Wolf’s procedurals. (In other mayoral acting roles, Boris Johnson’s duties included having a drink in the fictional London pub in the BBC soap opera EastEnders; Bloomberg was on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Giuliani popped up on Cosby, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wandered through George Lopez, Baltimore’s Kurt Schmoke had a bit part on The Wire, and Portland’s Sam Adams was a regular on Portlandia.)
Biden won’t be the first member of Obama’s #squad to appear on a network TV show this year: In May, first lady Michelle Obama showed up on NCIS as part of a storyline involving Joining Forces, an organization that supports the families of members of the armed services. The competition for the most high-profile political guest star is officially on!