When Mariska Hargitay started playing Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the content of the scripts, as well as the work she did to prepare for the role, opened her eyes to the epidemics of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. What she learned was staggering:
- One in three women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.
- Every two minutes in the United States, someone is sexually assaulted.
- More than five children die every day in this country as a result of child abuse and neglect, and up to 15 million children witness domestic violence in their homes each year.
But what really opened her eyes—and subsequently, her heart—was the fan mail she received. The letters didn't say, "I love your show. Can you send me an autographed picture?" They said, "I was raped when I was fifteen. I'm forty now and I've never told anyone." Survivors were disclosing their stories to her, many for the first time.
Her response was to create the Joyful Heart Foundation with the intention of helping survivors heal and reclaim joy in their lives.
Today, the mission of the Joyful Heart Foundation 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. We carry out this mission in three ways: Healing & Wellness, Education & Awareness and Policy & Advocacy. We conduct all our activities with the underlying spirit of collaboration, supporting and affirming existing services for survivors and efforts to end violence and abuse.
"[Now], I can just look in the mirror and see myself for who I really am; that I am a whole person; that I am complete."
Since our inception in 2004, we have raised over $17 million to support our programs and directly served nearly 14,000 individuals through our Healing & Wellness programs. We have connected with over 2.5 million individuals through our website. We have secured more than three billion impressions in digital and print media about our issues. And we've effected policy changes in jurisdictions from New York to California.
ENDTHEBACKLOG is a program of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to end the rape kit backlog. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.