Joyful Heart in the News

TV's Hargitay gets federal help fighting domestic abuse

March 13, 2013
Houston Chronicle
Dan Freedman

WASHINGTON - For actress Mariska Hargitay, it wasn't enough to play a detective on NBC-TV's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."

When her fan mail started to include statements like "I was raped when I was 15; I'm 40 now and I've never told anyone," simply remaining a Hollywood star was no longer an option.

Hargitay, the daughter of glamour queen Jayne Mansfield and the Hungarian-born former "Mr. Universe"Mickey Hargitay, knew she had to get active.

Nine years ago, Hargitay created the Joyful Heart Foundation to help victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.

At the National Press Club on Wednesday, Hargitay said the foundation had raised $10 million in private funds to serve over 10,000 survivors and the professionals who care for them.

"While I'm not an expert on these issues, I proudly claim the title of advocate," Hargitay said, occasionally choking back tears as she recounted her journey from TV star to social-issue activist.

Earlier Wednesday, Hargitay appeared with Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder to announce $2.3 million in federal grants to 12 programs aimed at reducing domestic violence homicides. Among the programs are ones in Contra Costa County, Calif., Westchester County, N.Y., and Brooklyn, N.Y.

Hargitay expressed hope that the foundation's new slogan, "No More," would someday equal the peace sign and the ribbons of HIV and breast cancer advocates. She asked the press club luncheon audience to wear the "No More" buttons she distributed as a call "for everybody to get involved. No more standing by and doing nothing."

"Law & Order: SVU" - now in its 14th season - features a team of police detectives and prosecutors investigating sexual assault and domestic violence cases. Hargitay described her character, Olivia Benson, as a "lioness."

Her advocacy has led to a few script ideas, such as an episode on backlogs of testing rape kits, the swabs of DNA from a rape victim's body. The backlogs occur because the tests are expensive, and sometimes because of police indifference.

Slowly that is changing, Hargitay said. California Attorney General Kamala Harris has eliminated the state's rape kit backlog since taking office.

Asked whether she feared her advocacy might lead to "celebrity backlash," Hargitay replied, "I don't worry about that at all. … This is a train I want to be on. I'm in it for the long haul."

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