Mariska Hargitay Says This Issue Hasn’t Changed In The 18 Years She’s Been On SVU

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Mariska Hargitay is opening up about how her role on Law & Order: SVU has made her an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. In a personal essay for the upcoming issue of TV Guide, Hargitay writes that playing Detective Olivia Benson for 18 years has opened her eyes to the injustices faced by survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. One specific issue that Hargitay says hasn't changed enough in her time on the show has to do with public opinion about sexual assault cases. “Survivors still largely face the same cultural attitudes that contribute to silencing them and preventing them from coming forward as when I started on the show," Hargitay writes. "And despite the prevalence of these crimes — to which statistics attest — these issues remain the most underfunded, under-researched, under-regarded social ills of our day.” This is one of the reasons why Hargitay says she founded the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization which looks to change the way society responds to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse and help in the healing process. The actress writes that while doing research to play Olivia Benson, she was met with "staggering" statistics. According to the Joyful Heart Foundation, every two minutes in the United States, someone is sexually assaulted. One in three women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. "I was asking why everyone wasn’t talking about these issues," Hargitay continues, "and why they weren’t dominating the headlines and the evening news." But Hargitay has hope that public opinion on sexual abuse and assault cases is changing. She's even witnessing that change with newer episodes of SVU, in which, she says, story lines have become "more nuanced and more informed." "Our writers are ever more determined to not only reflect events authentically, but to represent how prevailing cultural attitudes can introduce layers of confounding complexity into these issues," Hargitay writes. Read more of Hargitay's essay when TV Guide hits newsstands September 15.

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