Should a convicted rapist guest star on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"? A new Change.org petition says no — even if the convicted rapist is Mike Tyson.
Tyson's "SVU" turn, scheduled for the February sweeps, would continue years of image rehabilitation. Tyson is expected to play a murderer on death row who was victimized by a violent childhood.
Also read: Mike Tyson to Punch Up 'SUV'
But the petition says the show's latest stunt casting seems perverse after its long history of standing up for abuse victims. The petition has 4,623 supporters, just 377 names short of its goal of 5,000.
"As soon as I saw it, I was just floored by the news," said Marcie Kaveney, a Fort Myers, Fla., sexual abuse survivor and advocate. "'SVU' is a show I've followed for a long time. … I think survivors consider this their show."
She added of the guest spot: "I don't know if its for ratings or to clean up Mike Tyson's image."
NBC declined to comment. Representatives for Tyson did not immediately respond to TheWrap's requests for comment.
Tyson has overhauled his public persona in recent years, trying to leave behind memories of his conviction and his ear-biting in the ring. His gentler image has included playing himself as a closet Phil Collins fan in "The Hangover," embracing veganism, and starring in a one-man Broadway show.
Kaveney, who works with Abuse Counseling & Treatment, said she had never created a petiton before she learned of Tyson's casting earlier this month. She said she doesn't begrudge Tyson the right to earn a living, and knows he's done his time: He was released from an Indiana prison in 1995 after serving three years for raping a beauty pageant contestant. The former heavyweight champion has denied committing rape, saying he was "set up."
But "SVU," she says, is a show for survivors, not perpetrators.
Kaveney, who was sexually assaulted by two men when she was 14, said one reason she appreciates the show is that it refuses to blame victims. She was assaulted after drinking and passing out, and appreciates that the show makes clear that no one deserves to be raped, under any circumstances.
But she is bothered by Tyson getting a storyline that she believes might be perceived as an excuse for his past actions.
"It's kind of being a rape apologist, saying 'Maybe he's had this violent childhood and that's why he's become this violent person,'" she said.
She is also troubled, she said, by statements Tyson has made even as he tries to clean up his image.
Last year, in an interview with a New Zealand television show, he denied the rape, saying, ""I was set up — I don't care what people say."
Kaveney also noted a September 2011 interview in which Tyson responded to a book claiming Sarah Palin once had sex with NBA player Glen Rice. He said Palin should have had sex with someone like Dennis Rodman instead.
"You want her to be with somebody like Rodman… push her guts up in the back of her head," Tyson said. "Glen Rice is a nice, mellow, docile black man, non-threatening guy. You want somebody like Rodman — yeah baby! Let’s get that donkey in here now. … Just imagine Palin with a big old black stallion rippin'. You know, like rippin'. Yeehaw!"
Kaveney said the comment reflected continuing "misogyny" from Tyson.
If successful, the Change.org petition would be only the latest to make a massive company make a change.
In September, the National Geographic Channel dropped a woman known as the "Hardcore Huntress" from a survival show after protests from people who objected to killing animals for sport.
That petition earned 13,000 signatures in less than 24 hours — far more than the one to keep Tyson off of "SUV."