Our Story

When Mariska Hargitay started playing Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit 16 years ago, the content of the scripts, as well as the work she did to prepare for the role, opened her eyes to the epidemics of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. What she learned was staggering:

  • One in three women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.1
  • Every two minutes in the United States, someone is sexually assaulted.2
  • More than five children die every day in this country as a result of child abuse and neglect,3 and up to 15 million children witness domestic violence in their homes each year.4

But what really opened her eyes—and subsequently, her heart—was the fan mail she received. The letters didn't say, "I love your show. Can you send me an autographed picture?"  They said, "I was raped when I was fifteen. I'm forty now and I've never told anyone." Survivors were disclosing their stories to her, many for the first time.

The fact that these individuals were revealing something so personal to someone they knew only as a character on television demonstrated to Mariska, and to all of us, how desperate they were to be heard, believed, supported and healed.

Her response was to create Joyful Heart.

Inspired by her deep connection and love for Hawai‘i, where she first experienced her own heart awakening, Mariska founded Joyful Heart in Kona in 2004, with the intention of helping sexual assault survivors heal and reclaim a sense of joy in their lives. 

Today, Joyful Heart is a national organization with hubs of service in New York, Los Angeles and Honolulu. The vision of the Joyful Heart Foundation is a community with no sexual assault, domestic violence or child abuse. While we understand that this may not be achieved in our lifetimes, we continue to work towards it. Our mission is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues. We carry out this mission in three ways: Healing & Wellness, Education & Awareness and Policy & Advocacy. We conduct all our activities with the underlying spirit of collaboration, supporting and affirming existing services for survivors and efforts to end violence and abuse.  

Since our inception in 2004, we have raised over $15 million to support our programs and directly served nearly 14,000  individuals through our Healing & Wellness programs. We have connected with over 2 million individuals through our website and social media efforts, garnering more than 5 million page views and over 73,000 hours of interaction with our content. We have secured more than one billion impressions in digital and print media about our issues. And we've effected policy changes in jurisdictions from New York to California. We invite you to learn more about our reach here

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1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report." 57:5 (2008) www.cdc.
2 Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. "Statistics." (2009) www.rainn.org.
3 Child Welfare Info Gateway. "Child Abuse & Neglect Fatalities 2011: Statistics & Interventions." (2013) www.childwelfare.gov.
4 Partner Violence in Adults: Assessment in a Large Health Maintenance Organization. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 18(2): 166-185 (2003).

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