National Press Club

TV role leads to real-life advocacy for Mariska Hargitay

March 13, 2013 | By Richard Lee |

Actress Mariska Hargitay promoted her "No More" initiative to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault at a March 13 National Press Club luncheon.

Actress Mariska Hargitay promoted her "No More" initiative to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault at a March 13 National Press Club luncheon.

Photo/Image: Christy Bowe

For Mariska Hargitay, playing a detective on TV investigating sex crimes and acts of domestic violence led to something she couldn’t have predicted when she took on the role — becoming an advocate for addressing the repercussions of real-life crimes, the actress told a sold-out National Press Club luncheon audience on March 13.

Hargitay, an Emmy and Golden Globe winner for her portrayal of the tough, beautiful and dedicated Det. Olivia Benson on the long-running NBC crime drama “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” was in Washington to launch her "No More" initiative, a community and corporate effort to increase awareness and end domestic violence and sexual assault.

What motivated her to get involved, she said, were the many letters she has received from victims.

"They would write to me, in detail, about what had happened to them, and confess to me, ‘I’ve never told this to anyone,’" Hargitay said. "It was a deep, dark secret for many of them, for years. There was the stigma. There was the fear of what would happen to them if they told somebody, or went to the police."

The accounts moved Hargitay.

"I would read these letters, and I knew I had to get involved, somehow," she said. "I knew that I wanted to do more, and looked for an opportunity to play a larger role.”

In addition to launching "No More," Hargitay also founded the Joyful Heart Foundation. While in Washington, she conducted a round of meetings -- including one earlier on March 13 with Vice President Joe Biden -- gave speeches and made appearances to promote both efforts.

Armed with disturbing statistics and sobering case histories, Hargitay was impassioned, and frequently emotional, as she talked about her foundation’s work and the challenges it faces in dealing effectively with these crimes and their longlasting impact on victims.

For one thing, there are big backlogs of rape-case files in many cities, due to lack of funding for investigations. Rapists often get away with their crimes for many years.

There is also the expense of investigating a case — an average of $1,000 to $1,500.

Case loads have dropped substantially in New York, Hargitay noted, but Joyful Heart is joining forces in Detroit with Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy to raise the $12 million to $15 million needed to clear the 10,000-plus rape kits that are backlogged there right now.

The "No More" movement, Hargitay said, "is an idea that has become a reality. It’s a platform for making people more aware of the problem -- and a program to educate. It has to be a community effort. People have to get involved. No more blaming the victim. No more standing back and doing nothing.”

Among Hargitay’s guests on the dais were Lynn Rosenthal, White House advisor on violence against women, and Worthy.

Hargitay is child of Hollywood. Her parents were 1950s blond sex symbol Jayne Mansfield and ”Mr.’Universe” Mickey Hargitay.

Club President Angela Greiling Keane asked if she had experienced any industry “backlash” for her advocacy efforts.

“No, not really,” she replied.

Has her advocacy influenced her character on the show?

“I think to some extent it has. I think, 50-50. I’ve learned so much from being involved in this,” Hargitay said.

And will she sign on for another season of “SVU”?

“Next year? I certainly hope so,” she said.