Mariska Hargitay was floored when fans of “Law & Order: SVU” began sending her mail that wasn’t just praising her performance on the show, but disclosing their own stories of abuse.
“The theme in all the mail was isolation, shame and fear,” she told ABC News.
“SVU” stands for Special Victims Unit, a department of law enforcement that deals with sexually based offenses considered especially heinous. Immersing herself in these types of crimes to adequately portray Detective Olivia Benson, Hargitay said she came across staggering statistics.
“Every two minutes a woman in the United States is sexually assaulted,” she said. “I was just like ‘What!?’”
Her answer was Joyful Heart in 2004 and now the No More campaign, an effort to put domestic assault and sexual assault under one blue circular symbol just like the pink ribbon for breast cancer or the red ribbon for HIV. The campaign also promotes action and raising awareness about abuse.
Hargitay, 49, covers some pretty dark content on the show, and aside from her work with Joyful Heart, she said her “incredibly supportive” husband Peter Hermann and three children — August, 7; Amaya, 2; and Andrew, 2 — are the “brightest light” in her world, even after the darkest scenes she’s filmed.
Even a season 15 premier in which her character was held hostage by a rapist.
“They have so much joy and I see their face and they can transport me out of anything.” she said. “I just race home from work and it’s transformative.”
Her son August, only in second grade, is still trying to figure out mommy’s fame and her impact on people — on and off screen.
“We walk down the street and people are like, ‘Olivia, I love you!’” she said. “He’s like, ‘Mommy, why does everyone love you?’”
She said the work she and Hermann are doing to raise awareness and spread kindness is something August is absolutely picking up on and sharing with his younger siblings.
“[Amaya and Andrew] love their big brother,” she said. “They do a lot of repeating of what he says. They are just trying to impress him and get his attention. He is the king. They are like little parrots.”
No matter what comes up in the show, however gruesome, Hargitay said her home is the space that always brings her peace.
“Our house is like the most beautiful, chaotic mess of love and joy, fun and craziness,” she added. “It’s the fun house.”