Mariska Hargitay Talks About ‘Law & Order: SVU’ and How It Changed Her Life — ‘I Think I Was Meant to Do This’

Not many loyal fans could ever imagine Law & Order: SVU without the amazingly talented Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson. Viewers have grown with the series over the years and it’s become a platform for telling the stories of survivors.

Hargitay recently spoke with People for their cover story in their Women Changing the World Issue. Read on to learn how the show changed her life and how she’s making a difference in the world because of it.

Mariska Hargitay fights for survivors on and off-screen

Mariska Hargitay
Mariska Hargitay | Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Hargitay’s on-screen persona fights for the rights of survivors, but she does it off-screen as well. Hargitay received a lot of correspondence from viewers and those wishing to share their experiences with her over the years.

“So many of them said, ‘I’ve never told anyone this before,’” Hargitay revealed to People. “Having the character, Olivia Benson, listen — that was so powerful. People used to call me the accidental activist. I didn’t take this job on SVU to do this work. But I think I was meant to do this.”

Hargitay founded a nonprofit to help survivors

Some may call her an “accidental activist,” but that hasn’t stopped Hargitay from doing everything she can to help promote the healing process for survivors. She even trained to be a rape crisis counselor. In 2004, she founded the Joyful Heart Foundation in an attempt to help survivors. But Hargitay hasn’t stopped there.

‘I Am Evidence’

Hargitay is a producer on I Am Evidence, an HBO documentary that details the stories of four sexual assault survivors. The documentary takes a look at the reality of the backlog of untested rape kits in this country. These kits are sitting on shelves in staggering numbers. Hargitay’s foundation is the campaign partner of the film.

Hargitay learned in 2009 about the enormous numbers of untested rape kits. She made sure to put the issue front and center. “I couldn’t believe that this could happen,” Hargitay explains. “This is a crystal-clear microcosm of what is wrong with our society.”

Hargitay started working with Michigan prosecutor Kym Worthy in an attempt to make a real difference. “I met Kym and said, ‘Listen to me, I’m your soldier. You tell me what you need. How can we do this?’” Hargitay explains. “And we just joined forces.”

Hargitay works to make a difference

Hargitay isn’t just a successful actress that talks about the issues. She actually gives enormous amounts of time and all of her effort to the cause in front of her. She even testified to Congress twice about the situation.

“That’s all these women need is to be believed,” Hargitay says. “They need to be respected and seen and heard, and have somebody go, ‘I’m so sorry.’ And that person needs to be held accountable.”

Mariska Hargitay uses her celebrity for good to make positive changes in the world. Her work on SVU has helped lead her to find an even deeper meaning in everything she does.