The grisly murder and castration of a New York cabbie draws the elite Special Victims Unit of the NYPD, including veteran Detective Elliot Stabler and his partner, Olivia Benson, who soon discover that the victim had assumed the identity of another man, mainly because he himself was a wanted man.
When the body of Gretchen Quinn is found wearing only a red slip after having gone through an upper-story window, Benson and Stabler soon find out that 'Gretchen Quinn' has never existed. While trying to piece together her life, the detectives are led to Gretchen's psychiatrist and a well-known television newscaster, both of whom were sleeping with her, and through an overdue library book finally trace Gretchen back to a young woman who changed her name and identity after graduating high school to get away from her sexually abusive father. Cragen and Benson find it easy to identify with the young woman, as they both have ghosts of their own from which they must escape. Detectives manage to contact the victim's sister, who experienced the same trauma growing up.
After teen model Jazmin Burgess is dumped, beaten, and raped in front of Roosevelt Hospital, Benson and Stabler investigate to find out why a sixteen-year-old girl was out alone after midnight. High levels of drugs in Jazmin's system lead them to take a look at not only the modeling agency with which Jazmin was signed, but also the photographer who was supervising her last shoot and had booted her out because she was 'too heavy'. Stabler's disgust with the whole issue is aggravated by his and Kathy's worry that their daughter Maureen, who has been refusing to eat lately, may be anorexic.
When a young woman is found dead, she is initially believed to be a prostitute and the latest in a long line of victims, but when looking into her home life Benson and Stabler realize that she does not fit the pattern, and may not be connected to the other deaths after all, but the other deaths have a connection no one anticipated.
After a travel writer is found tied up with a woman's undergarments choking off his air supply, Benson and Stabler initially suspect his landlord's boyfriend, but suspicion soon turns to the landlord and her daughter. Both seem far too interested in what their tenant is doing with his time. After learning the daughter had a sexual relationship with the tenant, things take an even stranger turn.
After a female student is murdered at a local college, Benson and Stabler turn their attention to the school's basketball team. However, the college blocks their investigation at every turn because they are not willing to risk the negative publicity that the investigation could bring to the school and the upcoming championship.
When a young boy is found murdered, suspicion leads Benson and Stabler to a recently paroled child molester. Although they both hate what the man has done in the past, it is soon obvious to the detectives that the teenagers who initially steered them in the man's direction are hiding secrets of their own.
When the body of an assistant district attorney is found raped and beaten in Central Park, Benson lets her emotions get the best of her as she takes it upon herself to bring the suspected rapist, a local realtor, to justice. Stabler tries to get the man's business partner to help him, but Benson may be the one who ends up needing help.
The death of a local businesswoman throws the team into the world of bondage and sado-masochism where they first investigate the woman's colleagues but are soon on the trail of a host of individuals involved in the world of whips and chains.
Benson does her best to help a rape victim who is able to describe her attack in perfect detail, yet unable to properly identify her attacker when push comes to shove. When the detectives revisit the case a few months later, they find the woman even less willing to talk about what happened, as she claims she has moved on. Things turn sticky when Benson and Cassidy spend the night together, because Benson just wanted one great night, but Cassidy is left wanting more.
The death of a young gay man initially leads Benson and Stabler to investigate his father, a Conservative well-known for his homophobic viewpoints, but once they start looking into the young man's living arrangements they realize the person they're looking for may be closer than they think. Munch tries to help Benson find the man who raped her mother, and could potentially be her father.
When multi-millionaire Andrew Harlin is found murdered in his home, Benson and Stabler turn their suspicion to Harlin's long list of lovers, which includes both men and women. Evidence at the crime scene leads detectives to a pair of Russian escorts, but before they can get the truth from them, one turns up dead, and the boyfriend of the other confesses to murder.
After a judge is found murdered in his car, the detectives begin looking into his background and learn that he often delivered special verdicts for women in return for sexual favors and was also behind the funding of a local governor's bid for re-election. The team soon turns their eye to a battered wife with a secret.
At the request of a victim, the police commissioner comes to Cragen with a special request -- close the case of the man who raped three women nearly five years ago before the statute of limitations expires. The detectives finally get a lead when they realize one of the victims knows the rapist, but she's not willing to talk.
After a salesman is murdered, the detectives turn their attention to Stephanie Mulroney, the youngest daughter of a well-known family with some deep connections. But as they join forces with the officers from the two-seven, they realize that their case is connected with a long-unsolved case that Briscoe once handled years ago with his former partner, Mike Logan.
An elderly woman is found tied up and sexually assaulted in her apartment, and suspicion is initially on the young men that had broken into her home and robbed her, but once the detectives catch the young men, they learn that there was someone else in the apartment. The offered plea bargain initially doesn't go over well, but they finally reach a deal which leaves the detectives with a new case - whether or not the person that sexually assaulted the woman was mentally handicapped.
After the pregnant daughter-in-law of a prominent religious figure is found murdered in her hotel room, the detectives turn their eyes on her well-connected family only to discover that her infidelity, and the probable father of her child, was probably what lead to her death.
When a teenage girl comes into the squad room to tell the detectives that she was raped by a man she met on the Internet, the detectives set up a special sting operation, but ends up stepping on some highly-placed toes as Munch plays the kid to net the big fish.
After seven young women in a six month time span are raped by a flash and dash assailant on the city subways, the brass calls in a psychiatrist to help the team get into the head of the prep. When he is caught, he possesses the driver's license of a new victim who could put him away. Jeffries decides to keep a very close eye on the man they believe is guilty of the crimes until the others can talk to her.
Television reporter Sarah Logan refuses to let her recent rape get her down, and talks about her experiences on the air which leads to the arrest of a young man that the police feel is responsible by Benson and Stabler, as Munch finds himself forming a bond with the brave reporter.
After a pharmacy turns over some disturbing photos of a young boy, Benson and Stabler arrest a piano teacher for child molestation. After the boy claims to have seen other pictures of young boys at the teacher's house, the detectives get a warrant and while going through his personal affects, they find a series of videos that document the life of a young boy named Evan. Believing he can make or break their case, the team hunts Evan down only to realize that his testimony may not help at all because Evan is scarred far more deeply than they realized.
After a shopkeeper brings a note for help to the squad, the detectives begin trying to locate a young Romanian woman named Ilena, only to find her aunt, who hasn't seen the girl in months. The squad eventually find her at the home of the Morrows, a successful yuppie couple. A forensic psychologist analyzes the team, and presents disturbing findings to Cragen, suggesting that one of the detectives be removed from the team.