Mariska Hargitay covers the latest issue of People Magazine, the Women Changing the World issue. I’ve always loved Mariska, because I was an old-school fan of Law & Order: SVU. I freaking loved that series when the cast was Mariska, Christopher Meloni, Ice-T and Richard Belzer. That was the dream team. When they started doing all of that stunt-casting (ugh, Sharon Stone as a drunk ADA) and after Meloni left, I just stopped watching. That was years ago. But SVU is still on and it’s still changing people’s lives and raising awareness about so many legal issues, survivor issues, women’s issues and more. Not only that, but Mariska started the Joyful Heart Foundation years ago, and they’re really doing some incredible work on supporting survivors and advocating for myriad issues involving survivors, including the rape-kit testing backlog. From the cover story:
Mariska Hargitay has investigated sex crimes as Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU for 21 seasons and counting. When viewers started to reach out to her about their own experiences, she was moved.
“So many of them said, ‘I’ve never told anyone this before,’ ” the actress, 56, tells PEOPLE in the cover story for this week’s Women Changing the World issue. Then Hargitay realized that her character listening to victims made a difference to real-life survivors. “Having the character, Olvia Benson, listen — that was so powerful,” she says. “People used to call me the accidental activist. I didn’t take this job on SVU to do this work. But I think I was meant to do this.”
Hargitay trained as a rape crisis counselor and in 2004 started her own nonprofit organization, the Joyful Heart Foundation, to support survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Then when she learned in 2009 about the number of untested rape kits in America, she prioritized the foundation’s End the Backlog initiative.
“I couldn’t believe that this could happen,” Hargitay says. “This is a crystal clear microcosm of what is wrong with our society.” The Golden Globe winner teamed with Michigan prosecutor and rape activist Kym Worthy to take on the cause. “I met Kym and said, ‘Listen to me, I’m your soldier. You tell me what you need. How can we do this?’ ” Hargitay recalls. “And we just joined forces.”
With Worthy’s help, Hargitay documented the process of four women in Cleveland, Detroit and Los Angeles, having their kits tested after years of being ignored in her Emmy-winning 2018 HBO documentary I Am Evidence. “That’s all these women need is to be believed,” says Hargitay, who testified twice in front of Congress about the backlog issue. “They need to be respected and seen and heard, and have somebody go, ‘I’m so sorry.’ And that person needs to be held accountable.”
The Joyful Heart Foundation’s End the Backlog initiative has identified more than 225,000 untested rape kits sitting in police offices, crime labs or other storage facilities across the United States and helped establish legislation supporting rape kit reform in 41 states. Congress has also approved $131 million for the Sexual Assault Kit initiative.
“Eradicating the rape kit backlog is no longer if, it’s when now,” Hargitay says. “I know that.”
This made me really emotional, I don’t know about you. I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes. Mariska has made it so simple, and IT IS A SIMPLE ISSUE. Test rape kits. The rape kit backlog should not exist. The fact that there’s a backlog means that at every level, this women continue to be victimized by the justice system, and the justice system wasn’t built for them. Anyway, bless Mariska, she’s an amazing person.
Cover courtesy of People, photos courtesy of WENN.
She is an extraordinary woman. Truly.
As for SVU. I used to love it but I don’t really like the new characters, and I positively hate Kim Rollins. She is the worst. And I don’t care for Benson’s son Noah and his many season finale woes.
I really dig Hargitay. I remember an older interview where she talked about women coming up to her and telling her how much they admired her SUV character because it helped to come to terms with their own rape and find catharsis, and she decided to wanted to do more for victims of violent crime and then started the foundation. She could’ve seen that job as a paycheck devoid of any further investment on her part, but she chose to do something really productive and touching with it.
Clarification- Christine Lahti was the drunk ADA. Sharon Stone was stabler a partner turned ADA.
I know this bc Christine Lahti was the tipping point for 2/3rds of my family and they stopped watching. Lol!
The drunk ADA was so obnoxious and cringey
Mariska Hargitay is wonderful for her profound appreciation of the trust that survivors have given to her, and for her determination to live up to that trust and honor survivors. A beautiful woman, inside and out.
I’m struck by the fact that a rape-kit backlog exists/existed in the first place because these cases just weren’t prioritized in our society. Just one more example of how women are less-than, second best, not worth the effort. It’s heartbreaking. When “not all men” types wonder why we’re all so GD mad, this is the reason. Things like this. It’s infuriating.
This is great. I love how she said she didn’t set out for this purpose but then saw this as an opportunity and is showing up and doing the work!
Yeah Mariska! Keep on talking. Survivors everywhere can have a voice through you and because of you.
I’ve donated to Joyful Heart, I hope that People Mag’s feature gives them even more visibility and donations.