Joyful Heart in the News

2011 - Seven Who Create New Visions of Change

January 5th, 2011
Women's eNews
Colleen Flahtery

Maile Zambuto: Builder of Communities Who Will Not Turn Away

Cleaning the streets of Los Angeles in 1992, which were trashed by a community after the acquittal of police accused of beating Rodney King, provided an epiphany for Maile Zambuto, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and a college rape.

"I remember that moment, contributing in the face of so much suffering," Zambuto says. "I felt a sense of worth and that I could be of use to another person and to a community in a positive way."

This was a dramatic change for Zambuto.

"After I was raped in college and after years of sexual abuse, I was convinced that I deserved to be violated and disrespected, that this suffering was meant for me," Zambuto says.

She began actively working to reduce violence against women and children and spent nine years at Safe Horizon in New York, one of nation's leading victim assistance organizations, as its chief development and marketing officer.

Three years ago, Zambuto joined her friend and fellow advocate, actor Mariska Hargitay, star of "Law and Order: SVU," as executive director for the Joyful Heart, Hargitay's foundation. The organization, based in New York and with offices in Los Angeles and Hawaii, is dedicated to helping survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

"What I carry with me about my experiences is not the abuse itself, but the response of those around me. And for many survivors, it's the same. Although everyone heals differently, the healing process often begins with and continues to be affected by the response of community," she says.

At Joyful Heart, she says, they envision a community that is strong enough not to turn away from survivors. We want "a community that says to a survivor, 'We hear you. We believe you. You are not alone. And your healing is our priority,'" she says.

Under Zambuto's leadership, the organization has directly served thousands of survivors and reached hundreds of thousands of individuals through public education using film, print and social media.

The foundation's most recent innovation is Heal the Healers, dedicated to supporting and restoring professionals in the field serving survivors, such as law enforcement officers, social workers, therapists and medical personnel.

For the past two years, Joyful Heart has also campaigned to draw attention to the backlog of an estimated 400,000 untested rape kits in the U.S. These kits contain evidence of an assault gathered from a victim's body, often in emergency rooms. However, the evidence gained often sits in storage--with the DNA samples and other information ignored.

"We care about them receiving the most compassionate and expert response and we care about getting justice for them." Zambuto says.

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