Mariska Hargitay’s fictional life on “Law & Order: Special Victms Unit” inspired her to launch the very real Joyful Heart Foundation.
The mission of the foundation, launched in 2004, is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.
As Hargitay says on to Joyfulheartfoundation.org: “It all started when I began my work on ‘Law & Order: Speical Victims Unit’ over a decade ago. In my research for my role, I encountered statistics that shocked me: One in three women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. Every two minutes in the United States, someone is sexually assaulted. More than five children die every day in this country as a result of child abuse and neglect, and up to 15 million children witness domestic violence in their homes each year.
“I was also getting letters from viewers who were disclosing their stories of abuse to me. Normally, I’d get letters saying ‘Hi, can I please have an autographed picture,’ but now it was different: ‘I’m 15 and my dad has been raping me since I was 11 and I’ve never told anyone.’”
Hargitay realized she could use her fame created through her work as Det. Olivia Benson on “SVU” to draw attention to the issues surrounding abuse and domestic violence.
Joyful Heart has served more than 13,000 individuals through its healing and wellness programs, connected more than 1.5 million people through its website and online offerings to resources that offer help and effected policy changes in many states.
“Joyful Heart is about the courage to heal, and our programming is dedicated to honoring that brave decision,” says Hargitay.
The nonprofit works with legislators, the medical community, law enforcement and the criminal justice system to craft and enact laws dealing with sexual and family violence.
Hargitay herself is a vocal advocate, testifying before Congress urging lawmakers to address the backlog of untested rape kits in the U.S. She also launched endthebacklog.org, a website dedicated to this issue. She recently made her directorial debut with the star-laden campaign for No More, the nation’s first unifying symbol to end domestic violence and sexual assault.