When Mariska Hargitay 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:
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." Victims were disclosing their stories to her, many for the first time.
- 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 ten 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.
Since 2004, over 2,000 survivors have participated in Joyful Heart's pioneering retreat and wellness programs, thousands more have taken that first important step to get help through our website, and our participation in national educational and media awareness campaigns has planted the seeds of a changed awareness in the lives of millions. This year alone, the Foundation will directly serve over 2,000 survivors and the professionals who care for them.
Everybody knows that rape, sexual assault and child abuse happen. Society is willing to look at this reality from time to time, but is just as willing to forget the horrible truth about how many survivors are walking among us. The Joyful Heart Foundation is working to build a community that is strong enough not to push this reality away, a community that acknowledges the dark side of this issue, but endeavors to turn toward the light of healing, the path to possibility and the clarity of honest dialogue.
We envision a community that says to a survivor "We hear you. We believe you. We feel for you. You are not alone. And your healing is our priority."