Joyful Heart in the News

Law & Order star promotes Rockland's own SVU in video

May 10, 2013
Journal News -
Steve Lieberman

SUFFERN — Actress Mariska Hargitay talks about helping victims of sexual and domestic abuse on a video released Friday by the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office promoting the county’s “Spirit of Rockland Special Victims Unit.

The video opens and closes with Hargitay, who portrays Detective Olivia Benson on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” Hargitay also is founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, established in 2004 to support survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

She called the Rockland center, on the grounds of Good Samaritan Hospital, a model of compassion that offers a comprehensive system to help survivors. She got involved through Mark Alexander, a Rockland businessman who serves on the Joyful Heart Foundation’s board of directors.

The center helps special victims of various ages and genders who have been assaulted or are a victim of other crimes. For example, a senior citizen cheated in a mortgage fraud would be considered a special victim.

Hargitay provides chilling statistics on the video: One in three women report being sexually abused during their lives, every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the United States and more than five children die in the U.S. daily from abuse or neglect.

“There is a beacon of hope and progress, a model of compassion and action,” Hargitay says on the video. “Rockland County … has developed an innovative system of comprehensive support that brings to an end the revictimization of survivors during the legal process.”

Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said Friday that before agreeing to speak on the video, Hargitay sent representatives of her foundation to review the Rockland Special Victims Unit.

Hargitay and her foundation were impressed by the variety of people being helped and that the center was created through community donations of labor and furnishings, without the use of taxpayer money, Zugibe said.

The name “Spirit of Rockland” honors the contributions from the community.

“We didn’t limit the victims to just children — and there are many excellent programs helping children — but all victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence and other crimes,” Zugibe said. “All the labor and materials were donated, which also makes our center unique. When I pitched the center, people would say, ‘What do you want done?’ ”

The center, with colorful rooms to work with children and other victims, medical areas and offices for police and social workers, opened in 2011 inside a nondescript 3,000-square-foot converted warehouse.

At times of great stress and anxiety for victims, the center aims to provide a friendly, non-intimidating place for police, prosecutors, child advocates, rape counselors and others to treat and interview crime victims.

And the center also features the therapy dog Lily, a yellow Labrador whose wagging tail and affectionate disposition comfort children who have recently undergone a traumatic event.

Detective Lt. Mary Murphy of the Rockland District Attorney’s Office said on the video that to “keep our victims strong and together keeps our prosecution strong and together.”

“You can’t change what happened to them but you can make sure they have everything they need to go forward,” Murphy said.

During the center’s first two years, Murphy said Friday, the staff helped 98 people in 2011 — 72 children and 26 adults — and 155 people in 2012, 82 children and 73 adults. 

The 13-minute video talks about the center’s work assisting children, adults and elderly people who survived sexual attacks, domestic violence and other crimes.


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