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.