Law & Order: SVU frequently grabs its storylines from news headlines. But show creator Dick Wolf says the long-running NBC drama has also made a difference in real life by helping to give victims of sex crimes the courage to come forward.

“I think it’s opened the door into a multitude of conversations over the years. If you look at the #MeToo movement, she (pointing to series star Mariska Hargitay) founded it, a long time ago,” Wolf said Monday night during a panel discussion at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills.

Wolf and Hargitay, who is also an executive producer on the series, sat down for a Q&A led by Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment. The three discussed how the drama about a specially trained squad of NYPD detectives who investigate sexually related crimes has helped convey the message to survivors that rape is “not their fault.”

“We got to take the onus off the survivor and put it where it belongs, on the perpetrator,” Hargitay said. “It did change and it did give people the courage to come forward and realize ‘Guess what, you’re not alone.’”

Dick Wolf, Mariska Hargitay Bob Greenblatt
Dick Wolf, left, Mariska Hargitay and Bob Greenblatt
REX/Shutterstock

The series premiered in 1999 and has been on the air for nearly two decades. Last month, NBC renewed it for a 20th season, tying the record for longest-running drama series currently shared by Wolf’s original Law & Order and Gunsmoke.

“I’ve learned so much on the show in 19 years,” said Hargitay, whose character Olivia Benson has risen through the ranks from a detective to lieutenant.

Wolf revealed Hargitay landed the part after competing with about 100 other actresses. At the time, the actress had a development deal with NBC and had planned to do a sitcom for the network, but when she read the script for SVU, she was hooked.

“I said, ‘Get me out of my development deal. I’ve never loved anything more,” she said.

SVU currently airs in syndication on USA Network, Ion Television and Hulu. “It’s literally on all the time,” Greenblatt said to laughter. He also admitted those constant airings continue to introduce the show to younger viewers.

So what can viewers expect next season? Hargitay said she wants to delve deeper into the challenges of being a police lieutenant and single mother.

As for whether there will be one of those famous crossovers SVU does with Wolf’s Chicago-set series — Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D.? After the event ended, Wolf said in an interview, “It’s much too early to tell.”