"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" premiered way back in 1999 and is currently a whopping 23 seasons in, with over 500 episodes total. Further, the premiere of its 21st season in 2019 placed the series in the record books — it became the longest-running primetime live-action series on television (via AV Club). Created by Dick Wolf as a spin-off to the orignial "Law & Order," "SVU" follows the New York City detectives of the Special Victims Unit, the elite force that investigates sexually-related crimes, such as sexual assault, pedophilia, and domestic violence.
Considering that the series has been running for so long, the cast has definitely gone through some changes. However, one main character who has not left — and, in fact, has very much become the face of the series — is Olivia Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay.
Hargitay has become synonymous with her work on "Law & Order: SVU" and, as it turns out, the series has had an impact on the actor in more ways than one. Here's how Hargitay takes her "SVU" work home with her.
Mariska Hargitay is using the platform gained by her "Law & Order: SVU" fame to help the real-life victims of the types of crimes her character investigates on the show. In 2004, Hargitay founded the Joyful Heart Foundation in support of sexual assault, rape, and child abuse victims.
In 2019, Hargitay spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the work that her foundation does and what led her to begin it in the first place. She explained that, once she began working on "SVU," she was shocked to find out the statistics of rapes and other sexual assault cases, prompting her to train to become a rape crisis advocate. Additionally, she began receiving vulnerable and heartbreaking letters from fans confiding in her about their sexual assaults. She explained, "On ER, it was like: 'Hey, I love your show. What's it like working with George Clooney?' Now it was: 'I've never told anyone this before, but my father's been raping me since I was 6.' Letter after letter after letter. And the same thing that was happening in these letters was happening on the street with women disclosing: 'Oh my gosh, thank you. It happened to me, I never told anyone.'"
Speaking on her show's legacy, Hargitay said, "When I walk down the street and people say, 'I knew what to do because of watching your show. I knew not to shower. I reported immediately. I took myself to the hospital instead of saying forget it, forget this ever happened. That's what I'm most proud of."
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).