Mariska Hargitay (pron.: /məˈrɪʃkə ˈhɑrɡɨteɪ/ mə-RISH-kə HAR-gi-tay; born Mariska Magdolna Hargitay; January 23, 1964) is an American actress, best known for her role as New York City sex crimes Detective Olivia Benson on the NBC television drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a role that has earned her multiple awards and nominations, including an Emmy and Golden Globe.
The daughter of actress Jayne Mansfield and actor/bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay, Hargitay is a former beauty queen who made her film debut in the 1985 horror-comedy film Ghoulies, and her major television debut in the 1986 adventure drama series Downtown. She appeared in numerous roles in film and television shows throughout the late 1980s and 1990s before being cast as Olivia Benson, a role that led to her founding the Joyful Heart Foundation, which provides support to women who have been sexually abused.
A Message from the Founder
"I started the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 to help survivors of sexual assault heal their minds, bodies and spirits and reclaim their lives. Since then, we have expanded Joyful Heart's mission and vision. We have had thousands of people participate in our pioneering retreats and wellness programs and have reached millions more through national public awareness campaigns, as well as our website. I couldn't be prouder of the staff and board of directors who are working to move Joyful Heart forward each and every day.
When I started playing Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit a decade ago, my eyes were opened to the silenced epidemics of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse in this country. It wasn't just in the scripts for the show, but in the many emails I received from viewers disclosing their stories of abuse, many for the first time.
I felt a great responsibility to these brave men and women and wanted them to know that they had been heard and that they could have hope. I studied the subject, trained to become a crisis counselor, and used my visibility as an actress to become an advocate. The result was the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing support and encouragement for survivors.
In creating programs for our participants, we quickly realized that everyone heals differently. We choose treatments that engage the mind, body and spirit for healing purposes and try to discover the strategies that work for each individual. We provide an extensive network of resources and our own groundbreaking retreats that complement traditional counseling and therapy.
When people are abused and assaulted, it is like the doors to their souls slam shut. The goal of Joyful Heart is to let the light, and the life, back in--to banish the darkness and let the healing begin."
- Mariska Hargitay, President & Founder, Joyful Heart Foundation
Mariska on Healing Work
One of the most exciting and fulfilling aspects of the past year at Joyful Heart has been our "Heal the Healers" program. Those of you engaged in healing work-social workers, therapists, police officers, wellness practitioners, first responders, prosecutors, hotline advocates, and so many more-inspire me every day, both as an actress and as an advocate. As you know, I play a New York City police detective on television, which means my character's motto is "to protect and to serve". I have the utmost admiration for all of you brave healers who live that motto in your work every day. I have always thought "Heal the Healers" should be called "Heal the Heroes", because that's what you are. You encounter darkness every day, and, every day, you battle that darkness with your light. Revolutionaries that you are, you make the daily choice to turn toward the suffering of others, and then you do your utmost to alleviate it.
Your jobs require colossal amounts of courage.
But caring for others is only part of your job. In addition to honoring the experiences of those you serve, you must-must-also care for yourselves. As intuitive and obvious and lightweight as that observation may appear, self-care can be the task for a healer that requires the heaviest lifting.
Joyful Heart wants to help.
We did a lot of research for this issue of Reunion, and I hope it will inform you and inspire you as much as all of you have inspired me. It is my wish that you live the healthiest, most fulfilled lives you can, in full acknowledgement and awareness of the demands of your calling. May you find ways, in the midst of your mission to serve and protect others, to do the same for yourselves.
With admiration and gratitude,