The daughter of Hollywood royalty (her mother was Jayne Mansfield) does not live her life as if she were born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

Quite the contrary. Mariska Hargitay has used the visibility of her role as detective Olivia Benson in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to support the survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

Hargitay has been playing Olivia Benson for more than 10 years, receiving an Emmy in 2006. Between prime time and syndication, it is hard to miss her. Each week Olivia is confronted with solving a heinous, usually sexual, crime, with stories often “ripped” from today’s headlines.

She says that frequently the mail she receives from fans is not the typical request for an autograph or photo. Rather Hargitay hears from victims of abuse, who have been touched by her character, Olivia, enough to reach out to the actress to share their experiences, often for the first time.

The letters opened Hargitay’s eyes to the epidemic of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse in our country. Did you know that every two minutes in the United States someone is sexually assaulted? Shocking.

Hargitay could not look away. She wanted these victims to know that they were heard and that they could have hope for healing. She decided to become a crisis counselor and to use her visibility as an actress to become an advocate. This led to her founding the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004, an organization dedicated to providing support and encouragement for survivors of abuse.

Since its founding, Joyful Heart has helped more than 5,000 survivors and raised more than 20 million dollars (according to the Ladies’ Home Journal).  According to her message on the Joyful Heart website, “when people are abused and assaulted, it is like the doors to their souls slam shout. The goal of Joyful Heart is to let the light, and the life, back in — to banish the darkness and let the healing begin.”

You can also learn more about the Joyful Heart Foundation at Hargitay’s personal website,, which also lists a number of other organizations that are worthy of support.

Surely Mariska Hargitay is a beacon of light in our world. Whether she wins another Emmy or not, her voice has made a difference.

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Tati September 5, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    I love watching Olivia Benson on TV

  • Tati September 5, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    I am love watching you on law I. Order SVU I love watching olivia Beson on tv

  • jeannie graves August 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    mariska hargitay is a very good cop i watch law and order svu everyday and nite i am a huge fan of mariskas will always be my spot light i would love to meet mariska hargitay someday she is my very favortie actor on law and oder svu mariska is a good spot light hope you win a award iam a big fan of yours your number one fan jeannie graves

  • Sarah August 1, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Thank you Mariska for all of the joy and hope you have brought back into so many women’s lives! You are truly the beacon of light for survivors everywhere!! “Thank you” is all we are able to say but this is something you are able to be recognized with 🙂

  • S. Bewkes July 24, 2011 at 12:45 am

    Now I have an even more compelling reason to watch Law & Order SUV. Kudos to Hargitay for her generosity of time and spirit!!

  • Michelle July 23, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Great article! But FYI, thats NOT Mariska with her mom, Its her sister