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T.V. doesn’t just imitate life, it can change it, too. When Mariska Hargitay started acting on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” she didn’t know she’d end up helping children and adults heal from real abuse.

Q: Mariska, you were inspired to start the Joyful Heart Foundation after receiving letters from “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” fans. Can you tell us about that?

A: When I started playing Detective Olivia Benson 13 years ago, I began to get a lot of letters from viewers. I had gotten fan mail before, but these letters were different. They were coming from individuals who were disclosing histories of violence and abuse—a lot of them for the first time. I knew I had to do something, so in 2004 I created the Joyful Heart Foundation with the mission to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light on the darkness surrounding these issues. I’m very proud to report that since we began, we’ve provided direct services to over 5,400 people, and that we’re determined to change the conversation about violence and abuse.

Q: Sexual abuse and assault are so widespread. Which statistics have had the most significant impact on you?

A: Sadly, there are a lot of statistics to choose from. One in three women reports being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. Every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted, and many never report the abuse. Nearly four children die every day in this country as a result of child abuse and neglect. The statistics speak for themselves about the importance of building a society that commits to saying, “Enough is enough.”

Q: Can you tell us one inspiring story of how JHF helped someone heal?

A: I feel really fortunate to be able to say there are a lot of stories to choose from. But one that stands out is a survivor who told us recently that her experience with Joyful Heart “jumpstarted” a part of her that she had forgotten, that she gained back a part of herself that she had given up for lost. My heart soars when I hear things like that.

Q: Any exciting updates going on now?

A: That’s a question I always want to be able to answer with a “yes,” so yes. On January 17, we launched the One Strong Ohana campaign, the first statewide child abuse prevention public awareness campaign in Hawai‘i and the largest child abuse and neglect prevention campaign to date for Joyful Heart.
You can support the Joyful Heart Foundation by buying two beautiful accessories online at www.whiteandwarren.com and www.meandrojewelry.com


Bloomingdale’s is teaming up with the Joyful Heart Foundation and Mariska Hargitay to celebrate Mother’s Day. In retail stores and online, everyone’s favorite department store will support Joyful Heart by offering a collection of charity items.

Ten percent of every Michael Stars tee purchased through Bloomingdale’s during the month of May will benefit Joyful Heart’s transformative work. In addition, the multi-tiered Aqua stone necklace is available in coral, turquoise and moonstone, with $8 from each necklace also benefiting the Joyful Heart.

For Law & Order: Special Victims Unit fans, Mariska, Bloomingdale’s and Joyful Heart have the ultimate gift of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go behind the scenes of the Emmy Award-winning show. Mariska Hargitay will give you and one additional guest a backstage tour of the SVU set—plus, you’ll go home with a goodie bag filled with all kinds of SVU treats! This one-of-a-kind experience is available for $10,000 with 100% of the proceeds benefiting Joyful Heart. But you’ll have to act quickly—the first person to email bloomingdales@joyfulheartfoundation.org starting on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at noon EST will win the package.

Michael Stars will donate up to $25,000 in-store and online. Offer valid in store May 6 – 13, 2012. Offer valid on Bloomingdales.com during the month of May 2012. The Aqua necklace promotion is valid during the month of May in three select colors. Experience package is valid for two people. Hotel, transportation including airfare are the responsibility of the purchaser. Meet and greet to be set up on a mutually convenient date and time.

Joyful Heart Foundation uploaded a video of Mariska supporting the VAWA Reauthorization. You can view the video below and captures are in the gallery.

No Excuses- VAWA Reauthorization Captures

The Joyful Heart Foundation, created by Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, is taking on child abuse in Hawaii with the One Strong Ohana campaign

Joyful Heart, a national foundation that actress Mariska Hargitay founded in Hawaii to take on child abuse, launches a new statewide campaign, One Strong Ohana, to involve more people in her good fight

When Mariska Hargitay took on the part of detective Olivia Benson on NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (now in its 13th season) in 1999, nobody said it would be a double-role, the other being a real-life hero.

She has eight consecutive Emmy nominations for Outstanding Actress in a Drama with a win in 2006, received the 2005 Golden Globe Award and Golden Globe nomination in 2009, six SAG award nominations and two Gracie Allen Awards for American Women in Radio and Television; and most recently, she will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

But what you won’t find on her resume is the long list of people she’s helped, particularly victims of abuse.

In 2004, she created The Joyful Heart Foundation with a mission to heal and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to cast the light of education into the darkness that surrounds these issues. With April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the timing of MidWeek‘s exclusive interview with Hargitay could not have been more fitting.

“We all know the safety and well-being of our children is a priority, but we also know that instances of child abuse and neglect occur at alarming rates, and I don’t think people understand the true epidemic of this issue,” says Hargitay. “In the United States, nearly four children die every day as a result of child abuse and neglect, and 40 percent of young victims won’t live to see their first birthday. Research also tells us that one in four women and one in six men have had an unwanted or abusive sexual experience in their childhood.

“And while most Hawaii residents agree that child abuse and neglect are serious issues, all too often public attention is only turned toward them when the media reports on a tragic child fatality at the hands of a parent or caretaker. In 2010 alone, there were 4,199 reports of child abuse and neglect throughout the state. These statistics are staggering, and we must do something to make a change.”

When she first joined Law & Order: SVU, Hargitay says sexual assault never played a significant role in her life, but then she did some research for the show and learned the statistics – one in three women will be physically or sexually abused in her lifetime. Then came the fan mail.

“I had done other work on TV before SVU, and I’d gotten letters like, ‘Hi, my name is Amy. I’m 16 years old. I love your show, could you send me an autographed picture?’” explains Hargitay. “Now I was getting, ‘Hi, my name is Amy. I’m 16 years old. My father has been raping me since I was 12, and I have never told anyone.’ I remember my breath going out of me when the first letter came, and I’ve gotten thousands like it since then.”

Next was a heart-awakening experience during a visit to Hawaii. “I was swimming off the Kona Coast and this pod of dolphins came to where we were and I felt like I was surrounded by them and it felt like this sort of baptism because they did this crazy swarming sort of around me. I felt a connection to them and to myself that I had never felt before. They swam away and I came out of the water, and the first words out of my mouth were ‘I’m going to start a foundation for victims of sexual assault and child abuse and domestic violence.’

“When I’m in Hawaii I’ve always felt like I was home, which is bizarre because it’s not my home (she lives in New York) and I wasn’t born there (she was born in L.A.), but I have a connection that’s special to being there. It’s a place for me to retreat, meditate and to be truly still. I felt like I’m walking around with these gifts of hope, healing, possibility and joy, and those are the gifts that came to me in the water that day. So, I came out of the water with this profound clarity, this hope, this dream that all people can have, and that’s what I’m committed to do – to help other people reclaim their lives.”

The Joyful Heart Foundation has offices in New York and Los Angeles, and recently relocated its Hawaii office from Kona to Oahu (in the Kukui Children’s Center in Chinatown). It also recently partnered with the Hawaii Children’s Trust Fund in launching a statewide public awareness campaign called One Strong Ohana (see page 104 for more information) to promote the idea that the prevention of child abuse and neglect is a community responsibility and that there are simple ways to help create a safe and nurturing environment for Hawaii’s keiki.

“We all have a role to play, and research shows that parents and caregivers with strong social connections are less likely to abuse or neglect their children, and that’s why creating these strong connections is so important,” explains Hargitay. “As friends, supporters and bystanders, we can do simple things, such as, picking up groceries, offering to watch their children for a while, or even just talking to them to see how they’re doing can make a huge difference in preventing child abuse. We can ask our legislators to create laws that protect the well-being of children, provide funding for prevention and intervention work, and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

“When I see a story (on child abuse) in the news, I think about kids who don’t have a voice, who think they’re alone and think it’s their fault, that they’ve contributed to it somehow and that they’re responsible. I think that’s what kills me and just breaks my heart, that these are little innocent victims. But I also think that child abuse is preventable.

“While I was pregnant with my son August in 2006, I was deeply touched by the tragic case of a 7-year-old girl named Nixzmary Brown who was beaten to death in her home in Brooklyn. Nixzmary weighed only 36 pounds, had missed weeks of school in the months leading up to her death, and often had cuts and bruises, and vague explanations – another fall, another accident. Home was a horror for Nixzmary, but somehow, so many caring adults in her community missed the signs of her abuse. In response, I became the face of a huge public awareness campaign, and our rallying cry was Turn Your Outrage and Grief Into Action. Following this experience, Joyful Heart changed its mission in 2008 to include child abuse and to reflect my passion and commitment to children.

“Most recently, the case that has touched me was that of Marley Makanani, who tragically died at the age of 3 as a victim of child abuse while in the care of her uncle. The news of Marley broke the day after our press conference launching the One Strong Ohana campaign in Hawaii, which was unbelievable. The only comfort I can find is knowing that all of our work with One Strong Ohana will let Hawaii residents know what they can do to get involved to prevent any other child from experiencing what Marley did.”

When Hargitay is not busy working 14-hour days on set, she’s occupied as a mom of three young children: 5-year-old August, and 1-year-old Amaya and 8-month-old Andrew (both of whom were adopted).

“Being a working mom, I wish I could say it’s easy, but it’s really hard,” she confesses. “The foundation has been particularly sensitive to my needs with time. I bring my kids to work and that’s probably one of the greatest things is I get to have them there with me. There are days when I feel like the luckiest person on the planet – I have this full life, this great job and I have my most beautiful kids and my babies. And then there are other days where I’m like aaaahhhhh, and that’s hard. But I feel like that’s sort of all working mothers. We want to be the best in all areas, but there’s just not that much time in the day. I’ve got a great support system. My husband (actor Peter Hermann) is amazing. We try to balance things out, and I just so cherish the weekends. I’ve learned a lot about time management.

“The truth is it takes a village, and I feel really lucky because I have an amazing support group of friends and family, and even my son is so sweet and he loves to help. I love that saying how it takes a village to raise a child – I think it really does.”

In addition to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which Hargitay says she has no plans of leaving, she’s also narrating a new documentary film on adoption, is producing a couple of works and next year hopes to direct.

The youngest daughter of screen legend Jayne Mansfield and former Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay, she describes herself as a fun mother who is hands-on and loves to laugh.

“We have a house on Long Island and we call it the happy house,” says Hargitay. “But I’m also very strict, and we teach respect, manners, values, listening and giving somebody a firm handshake and looking at them right in the eye.

“I do discipline them, but I don’t spank. I haven’t found that was necessary. I think if you teach love and respect and teach your kids to listen and to be respectful, it shouldn’t really ever elevate to that level.

“One of the greatest things my dad taught me (about parenting) was he really listened to me. He listened and was so fair. I remember reasoning with him, and if I did something wrong, we would talk it out – he would say what he thinks and I would say how I think. I just knew he only wanted the best for me.”

Hargitay usually travels to Hawaii twice a year (in the summer and around Labor Day), but lately has only been able to come once a year with her next visit scheduled for September.

“Mariska is not just someone who happens to be a celebrity and loves coming to Hawaii on vacation,” explains Joyful Heart Foundation CEO Maile Zambuto, a graduate of La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls. “It’s really where her heart is, and all things that we do in the Foundation are inspired by her and her vision.

“We’re not a national foundation that decided to open an office in Hawaii. We’re a national foundation that was born in Hawaii. We’ve invested nearly $4 million since we started in the Islands, and we’ve reached more than 3,000 individuals directly through healing and wellness programs for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, and also to professionals – the folks who really are on the front lines.

“We’re also working on a new project with PACT on a program called Namelehuapono Wahine. It’s a domestic violence intervention program based on Hawaiian culture, developed by our board member Kalei Kanuha. We’re also in the process of seeking funding to create the program for children. In September, Mariska plans to host our first fundraising event in Hawaii. Also, last time she hosted a tea and invited community groups to hear about their challenges, and I’m sure we’ll do that again. She likes to stay connected to the community.”

The Joyful Heart Foundation has two full-time staffers in its Hawaii office, including regional director Kata Issari. The foundation also is supported locally by a Hawaii Advisory Committee and the Hawaii Hearts, a committee of volunteer supporters.

(Law & Order: Special Victims Unit airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays, returning with a brand-new episode April 11 on NBC (KHNL). For more on One Strong Ohana, click here)

> Favorite vacation spot … Hawaii, especially the Na Pali Coast and Kona. I would also say Italy, especially the Amalfi Coast.
> Favorite family tradition … Thanksgiving.
> Favorite activity with my children … swimming and laughing.
> Favorite activities in Hawaii … hiking, relaxing, and being in the ocean. Being in Hawaii, it’s an opportunity to connect in with myself and go into a deeper part of myself – it’s where I feel truly at home. I especially love Hawaii Island and love the ocean, being in nature and I love to experience the volcano and I love to go to the top of Haleakala.
> Favorite places to eat in Hawaii … When I am in New York, I dream about the coffee in Hawaii – all of it. I love all the fresh fruit, especially the pineapple and the fresh fish. I love eating in at friends’ houses and enjoy cooking together (with one of my closest friends Caroleen Feeney, and when I am on Hawaii Island I hang and eat a lot with the Lallys and the Kobayashis). I also have the best food guide – Maile Zambuto, CEO of Joyful Heart Foundation who grew up in Honolulu – she hooks me up with all the secret spots. I love having brunch at The Kahala – their Li Hing Malasadas are insane! Also, shaved ice at Waiola, Chinese at Eastern Paradise, pho at Hale Vietnam, and I love, love town (in Kaimuki) – their chicken with bread salad is the best. Also, the best coffee in Honolulu is at Tango, and by far my favorite snack is Aunty Nalani’s cookies at Red Pineapple.
> Favorite movie… too difficult to answer. Right now, The Artist comes to mind. Secret Lives of Others. Whalerider. How is that for eclectic?
> Favorite TV show… Boston Legal and Extras.
> Favorite beauty product … Dr. Hauschka Rose Day Cream, Epicuren Kukui Nut Coconut Moisturizer, Bigelow Lip Gloss.
> Favorite fashion designer is… I have so many. But, right now I really love Stella McCartney, Lanvin and Chloe.
> Favorite thing to drink …. Green Drink (made from fresh organic vegetables: kale, spinach, celery, green apple, ginger and lemon in a juicer … or some version of that … sometimes beet, sometimes carrot).
> Favorite food … pasta.
> Favorite thing I own … my photos.
> Favorite childhood memory … dinner table when I was 5 or 6 – fun times.
> Favorite candy … Gummy Bears.
> Favorite hobby … being in the water.


In recognition of April serving as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, 1in6, Inc.—a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help men who experienced unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives—proudly announces their recent partnership with the Joyful Heart Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Emmy Award-winning actress and advocate Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit with the mission to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues. In partnership with 1in6, Joyful Heart began providing resources that are specific to men to help them with the unique emotional challenges that can result from a childhood of unwanted or abusive sexual contact.

“Our partnership with 1in6 is critical in our work to engage men in the issues of sexual and family violence. Not only are we now able to provide a lifeline for the 19 million men in this country who are affected by these issues, but we are strengthening the message that men play a vital role in the movement to address, prevent and, one day, end violence against all people,” said Maile M. Zambuto, Chief Executive Officer of Joyful Heart.

The partnership kicked off with 1in6 consulting on the Law & Order: SVU episode, “Personal Fouls,” which told the story of an abusive youth basketball coach who made sexual advances towards his young athletes and kept them silent about the contact. To generate additional awareness on the importance of these issues, Joyful Heart produced a public service announcement with NBC and the Law & Order: SVU cast, which can be seen at http://www.men.joyfulheartfoundation.org. NBC re-aired the episode in January following the Penn State University sexual abuse allegations, and was preceded by a special message from Mariska Hargitay, highlighting the very unique challenges that men in this situation are forced to manage.

“Although many scientific studies have demonstrated the enormity of this problem, very few resources are available specifically for men who have experienced childhood sexual abuse,” said Dr. David Lisak, Founding Board Member of 1in6. “Common effects include addiction, depression, anxiety and relationship problems, so this is a huge problem for millions of men and our whole society. However, it’s received little attention due to the fact that it’s historically been a taboo subject and men have been reluctant to seek information and help.”

In addition to the episode collaboration, 1in6 has begun providing a weekly entry on Joyful Heart’s blog (http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/wordpress) titled “1in6 Thursdays.” These weekly entries are intended to engage men and the people who support them by highlighting the very complicated issues specifically related to male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. For professionals and organizations wishing to share materials on this subject, the two organizations have worked together to produce co-branded brochures and other educational materials at no cost. These materials can be ordered on the 1in6.org website.

1in6 offers a wealth of information and resources on its website, including an online help-line and lending library. It is the most comprehensive online resource in the world on the sexual abuse of males. But most importantly, 1in6.org offers information and services to men at different stages of seeking information and help, including those who are not yet ready to “break the silence” by calling a hotline, seeking a therapist, or even participating anonymously in a supportive online community. Joyful Heart recently launched its Engaging Men initiative noting that men play a crucial part of the movement to address, prevent and—one day—end sexual violence, domestic violence and child abuse. For more information, please visit http://www.1in6.org and men.joyfulheartfoundation.org.


The Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by actress Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order, has praised the legislation. The group, whose mission is to heal and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, is part of a statewide coalition of victim advocates in favor of expanding the DNA Databank.

“Expanding the DNA database is a victory for crime victims and those who care about preventing and ending sexual assault,” she said in a statement.

The law takes effect Oct. 12.

Read the entire article here.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a landmark in the movement to end violence against women and girls, is up for re-authorization. Authored by then-Senator Joseph Biden and signed into law in 1994, VAWA revolutionized the way violent crimes against women are prosecuted and prevented, and the way communities respond to survivors.

The act created the first federal legislation acknowledging domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes. VAWA created the first federal funding stream to support rape crisis centers across the country. It provided federal resources to encourage community-coordinated responses to combating violence. And it provided $1.6 billion in its first five years to enhance investigation and prosecution of violent crimes perpetrated against women.

Subsequent reauthorizations in 2000 and 2005, with widespread support in both houses, created a legal assistance program for victims, broadened the definition of violence against women to include dating violence and stalking, implemented culturally- and linguistically-specific services for communities and broadened VAWA service provisions to include children and teenagers.

VAWA has improved, protected, restored and saved lives. The time has come once again to move this crucial legislation forward.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, S. 1925, introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), is the result of more than two years of work by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, a coalition of over 300 advocacy groups that includes the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and the Joyful Heart Foundation. Contributing their voices, experience and expertise, over 2,000 advocates from across the country worked to identify the most pressing needs of survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. S. 1925 is the version of VAWA that advocates support. While some Members of Congress have offered other versions of VAWA, only S. 1925 protects all survivors.

S. 1925 provides for enhanced training for law enforcement, court personnel, and victim service providers in preventing domestic violence homicides. It fortifies criminal justice responses to sexual assault, laying the groundwork for strong cases that result in successful prosecution. S. 1925 will also support schools, youth organizations, domestic violence agencies and rape crisis centers to engag e young people in prevent ing violence before it starts .

The bill includes funding for VAWA’s criminal justice grant programs to develop and strengthen Sexual Assault Response Teams and Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner programs. The legislation also provides funding for programs addressing rape kit backlogs, the hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits in storage facilities across the country that represent missed opportunities for justice and sexual violence prevention.

VAWA’s sponsors, along with House and Senate staff and victim advocates from across the country, have consolidated its existing programs and strengthened accountability measures in all grant programs to ensure that the legislation is cost-effective.

Reauthorizing VAWA sends the message that survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking must have the tools to heal and reclaim their lives; that women and girls, our communities and our families, must be safe; that the next generation must be engaged in this effort—and that the evolution of our collective thinking on how to break the cycle of violence is a national priority. To send any other message is unconscionable.

Congress must act swiftly. Renew VAWA now.

Mariska Hargitay, star of NBC’S highly successful 14 season series, Special Victims Unit / Law and Order, is also founder and president of the Joyful Heart Foundation. Poore is policy chair at the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.


The “Law and Order: SVU” star has played Detective Olivia Benson for 13 seasons, but in real life she fights against sexual assault and abuse with her Joyful Heart Foundation.

The Joyful Heart foundation was created by Law and Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay to help victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or child abuse. Hargitay hosted the “Joy Rocks” celebration event, which made more than $150,000 during a star-studded brunch at the House of Blues on a sunny Sunday afternoon, March 4.

“I used to drive by here and think, ‘That’s where the groovy people go.’ And I was right. I think that it’s just my definition of groovy that has changed,” Hargitay said about the Los Angeles venue, as she began her speech inside the event.

The event specifically celebrated special honoree Joe Torre, sending the message that “engaging men is a crucial part of the movement.”

“People are changing, people do want to talk about it and there are men, heroes, truly like Joe Torre that are so brave and are true leaders, forces of nature and teachers to us. And that’s what today is all about,” Hargitay said.

The baseball legend shared his personal story of growing up in an abusive environment and received a standing ovation after his delivery. “There were as many men here as women today…for so many years this was looked upon as a women’s issue and it’s far more important than that,” Torre said after the event.

In 2002, Torre and his wife, Ali, started the Safe House Foundation dedicated to ending the cycle of domestic violence. “I know he’s touched a lot of lives and I’m really proud of him,” Ali said about her husband.

Joyful Heart, which Hargitay started in 2004, sprouted from an outpouring of letters and emails she received from survivors opening up about their own stories of abuse, some for the very first time. The letters prompted Hargitay to start something that could help, or in her own words, “I had this crazy idea to start a foundation.”

“I love that Mariska’s organization is called Joyful Heart, because it’s awesome to bring light and joy into a dark situation,” The Office’s Kate Flattery said, one of the many Joyful Heart supporters who attended the event.

Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank and Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler also expressed their support for Joyful Heart. They both spoke during a heartfelt moment of the afternoon where people shared one sentence on stage of something they have done, no matter how big or small, to promote a non-abusive society.

“I confronted the mayor of Los Angeles about the backlog kits in my city,” Swank shared.

“I am raising two young boys to treat everyone with respect and love every part of themselves,” Poehler said.

“We did something as simple as write a check,” Greg Kinnear said, who was a first-time supporter attending the event with his wife.

Grey Anatomy co-stars Sandra Oh and Kim Raver also attended the event. “I’m pleased to be here and also see the outpouring of support right now. That people took the time to want to be here together and to celebrate Joyful Heart foundation and bring awareness to its issues,” Oh said.

“It’s inspirational, because she (Hargitay) is bringing to light things that are often covered up,” Raver added.

Law and Order: SVU’s Christopher Meloni, Danny Pino and Diane Neal also attended in support of their co-star.

After a Southern-style brunch and generous auction, the rockin’ afternoon ended with a bang. Five-time Grammy-winner Wynonna Judd took to the intimate House of Blues stage for an inspirational performance accompanied by the House of Blues Los Angeles Gospel Choir.

Judd has been a longtime supporter of Joyful Heart, with her friendship with Hargitay going back to attending kindergarten together.

Joyful Heart has directly served more than 6,000 individuals over the past eight years, pursing their mission to heal, educate and empower survivors. “I mean statistics speak for themselves,” Hargitay shared, who states that one in three women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in her life.

“Today we shine a light of Joyful Heart’s vision of ending violence against women and children. Perhaps not in our lifetime…but I’m convinced it’s foolish to place limits on what we can do,” Maile Zambuto, CEO of Joyful Heart, said during her tearful speech inside the event. “If you feel like you don’t play a vital part, we want you to know you do!”

“Having all these people here, means they understand how profound an epidemic this is, and how much our culture needs to change about how we deal with, and how we talk about sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. I think this is a testament of people understanding,” Hargitay said.


In September 2011, less than two months before the dismaying news started emerging from State College, Pennsylvania, NBC aired an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that tackled the rarely discussed topic of sexual abuse of boys and men. “Personal Fouls” told the story of a long-time, respected coach sexually abusing the boys on his teams over many years. Then came Penn State. Then came Syracuse. Then Poly Prep in Brooklyn. The stories of predators and prey, of complicity and cover-ups, of shame and fear and pain and isolation, are harrowing. Unfortunately, they won’t be the last. We cannot change what happened, but we can change how willing we are to talk about it. And before our attention turns elsewhere, we can seize this moment to shed some light into the darkness that surrounds this issue.

An estimated one in six men, or nearly 19 million adult males in the United States, have had an unwanted or abusive sexual experience in childhood. The median age for reported sexual abuse, male and female, is 9 years old. Male survivors are even more likely than women to bear the burden of their trauma alone, as they are less likely to disclose their abuse. And perhaps most startlingly, men are far less likely to know they have been abused. In a study of men and women with documented histories of sexual abuse — abuse so serious it warranted the intervention of a social service agency — 64 percent of the women considered themselves to have been sexually abused. Only 16 percent of the men did.

The FBI recently took a significant step to break through the secrecy that surrounds male survivors of sexual abuse and violence by changing how the Uniform Crime Report defines rape. For the first time in its 80-year existence, the definition of rape will include male victims, allowing our national statistics on sexual violence to reflect more accurately what is happening in our communities.

We as a society must build on this achievement and take further steps to acknowledge that sexual violence affects men and boys. We must commit ourselves to engaging men in the movement to address, prevent and, one day, end all sexual violence. Two organizations are already leading the way in this effort: 1in6 is a national organization that helps men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives; and A CALL TO MEN is galvanizing a national movement of men committed to ending violence and discrimination against women and girls. Each in their own way, these organizations use information, support and compassion to dispel the isolation that male survivors experience. They promote healthy relationships, and they boldly redefine “manhood.”

At Joyful Heart, the foundation I started in 2004 to help survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse heal and reclaim their lives, we are proud to share in the vision of one day ending violence against all people. We hope to send this message to all survivors: We hear you. We believe you. We feel for you. You are not alone. And your healing is our priority.

I invite you to watch the re-airing of “Personal Fouls” tonight on NBC, guest starring the NBA’s Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. I hope it will inspire you to think and talk about the issue of sexual abuse of boys and men. And I hope it will inspire you to take action — on behalf of your child, your spouse, your friend, your co-worker, yourself — and join me in the effort to engage men in the movement to end sexual abuse and violence. To learn more about this important issue, please visit men.joyfulheartfoundation.org.

Mariska Hargitay is the Emmy Award-winning star of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on NBC and the founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation. Joyful Heart’s mission is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues.


Support for Expanding New York State’s DNA Databank Captures

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