Law and Order's Mariska Hargitay recalls being raped in her 30s in powerful essay about overcoming trauma

Law and Order's Mariska Hargitay has made a powerful confession.
Law and Order's Mariska Hargitay has made a powerful confession. Photo credit: Law and Order SVU / Facebook

Warning: This story contains content some may find upsetting

Mariska Hargitay revealed in a moving personal essay that decades ago, she was raped – but the Law & Order: SVU star wrote that she won't let the experience "define" her.

"A man raped me in my thirties," she wrote at the start of her piece, published by People magazine on Wednesday. "It wasn't sexual at all. It was dominance and control. Overpowering control."

Hargitay recalled the man "was a friend" and described the act in detail. "I went into freeze mode, a common trauma response when there is no option to escape. I checked out of my body," she recalled.

The actor wrote about how for many years she coped with her trauma privately, by being an outspoken advocate for victims of sexual violence and by focusing on her work with the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization that spreads awareness about sexual violence and provides support for survivors that Hargitay founded in 2004.

She also coped by cutting the experience out of her mind, writing, "I did what I had to do to survive."

"Now I'm able to see clearly what was done to me. I understand the neurobiology of trauma. Trauma fractures our mind and our memory," Hargitay wrote, adding that her own experience wasn't just a case of an "unwanted" advance.

"That's why I've talked so much about acquaintance rape, because many people still think of rape as a man jumping out of the bushes," she wrote. "This was a friend who made a unilateral decision."

While acknowledging that this is a "painful" part of her story, she wrote that "it doesn't come close to defining me" and hopes that by sharing her story, others who've experienced acts of sexual violence feel empowered to talk about it, too.

Hargitay is currently celebrating a milestone 25 years starring as Olivia Benson on SVU, a character often depicted as bringing justice for victims of sexual assault and abuse.

In her essay, Hargitay honoured the sexual assault survivors who've watched the show, writing, "they're the ones who've been a source of strength for me. They've experienced darkness and cruelty, an utter disregard for another human being, and they've done what they needed to survive."

"For some, that means making Olivia Benson a big part of their lives," she contiued, adding the sentiment is "an honor beyond measure."

At the end of her essay, Hargitay expressed gratitude for where she is some 30 years on from the experience. And although she is "still proudly in process," she wrote that she is renewed and "flooded with compassion for all of us who have suffered."


Where to find help and support:

  • Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
  • Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584