Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation and the Power of Vulnerability

Christina Grasso
Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation and the Power of Vulnerability
Photo: Getty

Mariska Hargitay may be best known for her role as Olivia Benson, the badass lieutenant on NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” now going into its 19th season. But what many people may not know is that her work on the hit show inspired her to use her platform for tremendous good (🙌) by helping survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. In other words, her level of badassery transcends that of her character’s on the show that I, like so many others, grew up watching.

Hargitay founded the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 with the intention of helping survivors heal and reclaim a sense of joy in their lives. “I started getting fan mail from survivors who felt a connection to Olivia. In many of these letters, people would disclose their personal stories of abuse—some for the very first time. I remember getting the sense that many were living in isolation with so much shame, but the shame belonged to the perpetrators. I wanted to help find a way to help people reclaim their lives and live them with a renewed sense of possibility and hope. And that’s what we work to do every day at Joyful Heart,” she said.

Now, Joyful Heart is a national organization with the mission to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, and support survivors’ healing. Since 2010, Joyful Heart has made eliminating the rape kit backlog their top advocacy priority through their End the Backlog initiative. The rape kit backlog crisis extends far and wide, with an estimated hundreds of thousands of rape kits that remain untested in crime labs across the country, which prevents survivors from healing and assailants from being prosecuted. As a result, the organization has partnered with Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, Jr., who has invested $38 million toward ending the nationwide backlog.

MORE: Here’s What It’s Like to Be on ‘Law and Order: SVU’

We had the opportunity to chat with Hargitay about her crucial work at last night’s Joyful Revolution Gala in New York City, where she expressed to us the power of vulnerability, the importance of using one’s voice, and you know, T-Swift.

On the Power of Vulnerability

“I used to be embarrassed and ashamed by it [crying], but now I find it’s probably one of the most powerful things I do, because I think there’s strength and vulnerability in it. People try not to cry, and my new thing is: I don’t care. I think it’s the most powerful thing about me. A lot of people, I hear them say like, ‘Oh God, I don’t want to cry, I don’t want to cry in front of a man.’ And I’m like, you know what? I’ll cry in front of anyone. You know why? Because it’s the truth, and I’ll cry and then I get through it.”

On Raising Strong Children

“I talk a lot to my kids about respect, consent, joy, your own body, about your voice and how important it is, and how important it is for everyone to be heard. That’s why we don’t interrupt. It’s such a cliché, but don’t interrupt people. Let them finish.”

On Getting Taylor Swift Involved in Her Work

“We gotta get on that! But I am busy trying to clean up the rape kit backlog! [laughs] She will when she’s ready; we gotta get people on their own time. And I only want people who want to do the work.”

 MORE: How Becoming a Mom Changed One Woman’s Perspective on Being Raped