When Mariska Hargitay began playing Detective Olivia Benson on Law and Order: Special Victim's Unit over a decade ago, the content of the scripts opened her eyes to the epidemic of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. What she learned was staggering. But what really opened her eyes-and subsequently her heart-were the letters she received. The letters didn't say, "I love your show. Can you send me an autographed picture?" They said, "I was abused by my uncle from when I was eight to fifteen. I'm forty now and I've never told anyone." Victims were disclosing their stories to her, many for the first time.
Mariska founded Joyful Heart in 2004 with the intention of helping survivors heal and reclaim their lives. Our 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. Through our retreat, wellness and empowerment programs, we have served over 5,000 individuals.
We have learned that although everyone heals differently, the healing process often begins with and continues to be affected by the response of community. At Joyful Heart, we envision a community that is strong enough not to turn away from these issues; a community empowered with knowledge, courage and compassion, engages in an open dialogue about how to collaboratively end the cycle of violence and abuse.
We envision a community that says to a survivor, "We hear you. We believe you. You are not alone. And your healing is our priority."
We are all a part of that community -from elected officials, members of the criminal justice system, medical personnel, and business leaders to the educators, parents and philanthropists.
From the advocates who have dedicated their lives to this cause to the members of the media who will choose the words that will elevate our message.
A community that prioritizes healing thinks differently, behaves differently, and responds differently.
Our hope is to change awareness and attitudes about abuse, change systems to lessen the trauma survivors experience, and ensure greater access to justice for victims of sexual and family violence. That is why we have turned our attention to educating the medical community about their response ------click here to learn more, and that is why we have turned our attention to ending the rape kit backlog in the United States.
Joyful Heart is moving forward on this issue backed by staff members who are national experts on the rape kit backlog, and board members who themselves have successfully eliminated backlogs in their communities.
In May 2010, Mariska testified on the rape kit backlog before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. It was a watershed moment in the ongoing movement to shed light on this issue and eliminate the backlog of hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits in this country. Mariska added her voice to a chorus of activists, experts, survivors, and legislators pressing lawmakers to support victim-centered reforms, and urging legislators to prevent future backlogs. Most significantly, she stressed the importance of keeping survivors at the center of the dialogue:
"These kits represent human beings who have suffered greatly. Testing their rape kits sends victims the fundamental and crucial message that they and their cases matter. Not testing them sends the opposite message."
In an effort to raise awareness about the rape kit backlog, Mariska and Joyful Heart partnered with Neal Baer, title, Wolf Productions and NBC to create a special episode of Law and Order: SVU about the rape kit backlog. It aired September 29th, 2010, and has brought the rape kit backlog to the attention of millions of people.
In response to the need for a comprehensive web-site on the rape kit backlog, Joyful Heart created and administers endthebacklog.org.