Our Story

When Mariska Hargitay started playing Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, 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 four women and one in seven men have experienced some form of severe violence from an intimate partner.
  • An American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds.
  • A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds.

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 world free of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. While we understand that this may not be achieved in our lifetimes, we continue to work towards it. Our mission is to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, support survivors’ healing, and end this violence forever. We carry out this mission in three ways: Healing, Education, and 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 more than $33.5 million to end this violence forever, received $147.7 million in in-kind and donated services, and directly served more than 18,500 individuals through our healing programs. We have connected with over 3.9 million individuals through our website and social media efforts. We have garnered more than 8.9 billion impressions in digital and print media about our issues. And we've effected policy changes in jurisdictions from New York to California.


The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010-2012 State Report. Atlanta, GA. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Department of Justice, Oce of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2010-2014 (2015).
Child Abuse Statistics & Facts: https://www.childhelp.org/child-abuse-statistics/. 

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