Mariska Hargitay: How ‘Law & Order: SVU’ Inspired Her To Fight Against Abuse

Mariska Hargitay’s best-known role may be as Olivia Benson on NBC’s Law & Order: SVU. However, she is also a strong and outspoken voice for abuse survivors. In an interview, the actress talked about how the crime drama television show inspired her to fight against abuse.

In the latest issue of TV Guide, Mariska Hargitay discussed Law & Order: SVU, the Joyful Heart Foundation and sexual assault statistics. She also talked about her fight to educate and stop abuse. There are a lot of actors that use their celebrity status to create awareness about certain issues. However, Hargitay is passionate about the cause and even created an organization, the Joyful Heart Foundation. There are few stars who are as driven and passionate about a cause like Mariska. She is determined to end sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse.

When Hargitay began doing research on Olivia Benson’s character, she discovered the cold, hard truth about sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. Like many others, Mariska was stunned. She didn’t know why people were not talking about the issues and why they didn’t make the headlines.

The actress even started receiving letters from survivors, who told her their stories. This is what prompted Mariska Hargitay to create the Joyful Heart Foundation. According to the website, the mission of the organization is to “transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, support survivors’ healing, and end this violence forever.”

Mariska credits Law & Order: SVU for creating awareness, getting people talking about these issues, and giving her a platform to be an advocate. However, she is still deeply troubled by one thing.

“Survivors still largely face the same cultural attitudes that contribute to silencing them and preventing them from coming forward as when I started on the show [in 1999], and despite the prevalence of these crimes — to which statistics attest — these issues remain the most underfunded, under-researched, under-regarded social ills of our day.”

For those that may not be aware, one-in-three women are physically or sexually abused by an intimate partner in their lifetime. One-in-four women and one-in-six men were sexually abused before their 18th birthday. In the United States, someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes. Perhaps the most disturbing statistic of all is that five children die each day in America from abuse and neglect.

Benson returns to Wednesday nights. Don't miss #SVU's return, Wednesday, September 21 on @nbctv.

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Law & Order: SVU is about to enter Season 18. Over the years, Hargitay has seen changes that are being made, especially on college campuses. There have also been a lot of celebrities bravely coming forward with their own stories, like Lady Gaga. There is more awareness and people are talking, but it still isn’t enough. The staggering statistics prove that.


“These facts, after they give me pause, also give me instruction. They tell me that there is still much work to be done. They tell me that the challenges we face in bringing an end to this violence are formidable. They also tell me to look in other directions for undeniable, irrefutable signs of progress, cultural shifts, and movement — simply put, change.”

As for Law & Order: SVU, the writers are even becoming more informed to create scripts that show the reality of abuse. They also aim to show how cultural attitudes can create complex layers into the issues. Viewers have seen the progression of shocking storylines over the years. It seems each season, the plots become more disturbing and shocking. However, it is because that is what is happening out in the world, in your city, even in your own neighborhood. Perhaps, even in your own home.

Mariska Hargitay is outraged by the high statistics. However, she also has hope that as the stories are told, that one day the violence will stop.

[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]