Joyful Heart in the News

Mariska Hargitay Backs Expansion of NY’s DNA Database

January 24th, 2012
North County Gazette
North County Gazette

ALBANY—Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed making New York State the first state in the country to expand its DNA database to include anyone who has been convicted of a crime.

In his annual State of the State Address, Cuomo said he would seek to expand the database to cover all crimes which would result in preventing future crimes and would help exonerate wrongfully accused individuals.

Currently, DNA is collected only from those individuals who have been convicted of felonies or certain misdemeanors.

Mariska Hargitay, founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation and star of Law & Order, Special Victims Unit, has released a video in support of expanding New York’s DNA Databank.

Mariska Hargitay says when she started playing Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit over a decade 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.

    •    Every two minutes in the United States, someone is sexually assaulted.

    •    Nearly four children die every day in this country as a result of child abuse and neglect. And up to 10 million children witness domestic violence each year.

Mariska founded Joyful Heart in 2004 with the intention of helping survivors heal and reclaim their lives. Today, Joyful Heart’s 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.

The governor said the state’s database has provided leads in over 2,700 convictions and led to 27 exonerations, but only allows the state to collect DNA from about half of all defendants convicted of crimes.

On Wednesday, the state District Attorney’s Association gave strong support to Cuomo’s proposal.

Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. also gave his support to the All-Crimes DNA legislation.

 “DNA testing is one of the most reliable and cost-effective tools that we have in law enforcement. An expanded database will help convict the guilty, exonerate the innocent, and bring closure to thousands of victims in unsolved cases”, Vance said.

“It is rare that a single piece of legislation has such an incredible power to not only solve crimes, but to prevent them. I urge all of our state lawmakers to expedite the passage of this legislation. This is an important step in making sure our laws recognize and utilize the best technology to protect our residents.”

The use of DNA technology has revolutionized the criminal justice system in theUnited States. It has meant that perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes, survivors receive the justice they deserve and thousands more are spared the trauma and pain of sexual violence.

Studies show that individuals who commit serious crimes, like rape, are generally serial offenders who have also been convicted of lower-level misdemeanors. A single DNA sample often matches to multiple cold cases when entered into the New York DNA Databank.

In fact, since New York began collecting DNA samples for some misdemeanor convictions in 2006, offender profiles from shoplifting and criminal trespass convictions alone have matched to 332 sexual assault cases.

And yet, current law limits the collection of DNA samples for entry into the Databank to offenders convicted of penal law felonies and only certain misdemeanors. As a result, the Databank captures offender profiles for only 46% of crimes in the state penal law.

Hargitay has urged residents to send a message to their New York State representatives today, encouraging them to pass a bill that will bring healing and justice to survivors, hold violent offenders accountable, solve and prevent crimes and avoid wrongful conviction.

Visit to learn more about expanding New YorkState’s DNA Databank.

“Together, we have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of survivors and for the safety of our communities”, she said.   

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