02/06/2014 11:33 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

SVU Shines a Light on the Horrific Practice of "Rehoming"

Tonight's SVU did something only this show can: It entertained and riveted, while teaching about a horrifying American problem. In this gut-wrenching episode, SVU cast a light on the real-life tragedy of "rehoming": The practice of giving up adopted kids via Internet chat rooms, and the abuse that flourishes in this black market of thrown-away children.


The SVU detectives are called into a home when it appears that a child has been abducted. In fact, the 7-year-old boy was given up by his mother, without the father's knowledge. The couple had adopted him from former Soviet state of Georgia, only to learn that he had serious developmental and social problems.

Mom couldn't take it, so she went to a chat room and met a well-meaning but ditzy middleman who took the child, then promptly gave him to a couple with a false address and a forged home-study. The new family turns out to be pornographers who took the boy to use in their child porn videos.

Olivia and her team eventually track them down to a cheap motel, where they save the boy and three little girls. In the motel room, they also find an infant baby. The infant is unclaimed and sent into the foster care system.

Olivia, who spent a large part of this episode in an exciting but, ultimately anticlimactic pregnancy head-fake, looks longingly at the baby as her biological clock ticks ominously in the background.

Verdict: A

What they got right:

Last September, Reuters ran a five-part story about the practice of rehoming in America. Read this story. It will chill you to the bone.

Some of tonight's episode was hard to watch, especially the scenes with the kids on video. Even worse are the things that happen to kids like this in real life.

Americans who adopt foreign children with psychological problems can feel overwhelmed. One woman infamously sent her adopted son back to Russia on a plane.

More recently, some have used the Internet to abandon these children, in a practice known as "rehoming." Parents advertise they have a child available; within hours, they can hand the child off to other adults who want them, for reasons ranging from benign to heinous. There are no child welfare agencies involved, and no government records. The old family simply signs a power-of-attorney for to the new family, allowing them to care for the children.

The results are horrific. Sexual predators troll the sites, obtaining tiny victims almost effortlessly. Reuters chronicled extensive sexual and physical abuse. One girl was made to dig her own grave.

Support for adoptive parents and a greater system of oversight after international adoptions could help alleviate this. Kudos to SVU for getting people to talk and care about this real problem.

On a happier note, was Olivia thinking of adopting that cute baby herself? It wouldn't be as implausible as it might seem. As an antidote to the information above, check out this wonderful story of a man who found an abandoned baby in the New York subway -- and ended up adopting him into a warm and loving home.

What they got wrong:

When Nick and Ice-T went to execute their arrest warrant, Nick broke down the front door with his shoulder. This only happens on TV. Try breaking down a door with your shoulder. Your shoulder will not appreciate it, and the door won't give a damn. In warrant cases where a door might need knocking down, police bring a battering ram.

As the squad's new sergeant, Olivia wouldn't be out on the street investigating the case, nor would she be executing warrants. She would be behind the desk responding to emails, preparing budgets and filling out evaluations (those evaluations going to be interesting this year, with Amanda's gambling, Nick's marital dysfunction and Fin's... being Fin).

Finally, I've never met a police officer who would turn down a chance to stand next to the mayor at a press conference after a big bust. Their job is pretty thankless. Officers need to get their attaboys where they can.

What do you think, SVU fans? Was this episode hard for you to watch? Should Olivia try to adopt that adorable baby? And whatever happened to that other foster child she had, a few seasons ago? Leave your comments!