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Law & Order: SVU Star Mariska Hargitay Reveals She Was Raped -- By 'A Friend'

Law & Order: SVU Star Mariska Hargitay Reveals She Was Raped In Her Thirties By A Friend

[Warning: Potentially Triggering Content]

Mariska Hargitay opened up about a traumatic experience in her life for the first time ever this week.

The actress, whose iconic character Olivia Benson works to solve sexual assault cases on Law & Order: SVU, revealed in an emotional new essay published by People on Wednesday that she is a victim of rape, too. Mariska said the assault occurred when she was in her thirties — and her rapist wasn’t a stranger. The 59-year-old shared that she had known him very well. In fact, he was “a friend.”

Related: Nigel Lythgoe Sued For Sexual Assault Again Following Paula Abdul Controversy

Mariska recalled the horrific incident was all about “dominance and control” — “overpowering control.” Without naming her former pal, she continued:

“He was a friend. Then he wasn’t. I tried all the ways I knew to get out of it. I tried to make jokes, to be charming, to set a boundary, to reason, to say no. He grabbed me by the arms and held me down. I was terrified. I didn’t want it to escalate to violence. I now know it was already sexual violence, but I was afraid he would become physically violent. I went into freeze mode, a common trauma response when there is no option to escape. I checked out of my body.”

Heartbreaking. Unable to “process” what happened at the time, Mariska attempted to push the rape to the back of her mind for a long time:

“I couldn’t believe that it happened. That it could happen. So I cut it out. I removed it from my narrative. I now have so much empathy for the part of me that made that choice because that part got me through it. It never happened. Now I honor that part: I did what I had to do to survive.”

For years, she did everything she could to move on from the painful experience. The ER alum said she dove into her work with the Joyful Heart Foundation, which helped support and empower survivors of sexual assault and abuse:

“I was building Joyful Heart on the outside so I could do the work on the inside. I think I also needed to see what healing could look like. I look back on speeches where I said, ‘I’m not a survivor.’ I wasn’t being untruthful; it wasn’t how I thought of myself.”

When Mariska spoke about the assault to others, she shared that she often “minimized” it. She even downplayed what happened to her husband, Peter Hermann, telling him “it wasn’t rape.” But over time, as she talked about it more and more with those closest to her, Mariska eventually saw it for what it really was. She wrote:

“Then things started shifting in me, and I began talking about it more in earnest with those closest to me. They were the first ones to call it what it was. They were gentle and kind and careful, but their naming it was important. It wasn’t a confrontation, like ‘You need to deal with what happened,’ it was more like looking at it in the light of day: ‘Here is what it means when someone rapes another person, so on your own time, it could be useful to compare that to what was done to you.’ Then I had my own realization. My own reckoning.”

Mariska added:

“Now I’m able to see clearly what was done to me. I understand the neurobiology of trauma. Trauma fractures our mind and our memory. The way a mirror fractures.”

Since coming to terms with what happened, Mariska explained that it was other sexual assault survivors who approached due to her work on SVU that have given her so much “strength”:

“Survivors who’ve watched the show have told me I’ve helped them and given them strength. But they’re the ones who’ve been a source of strength for me. They’ve experienced darkness and cruelty, an utter disregard for another human being, and they’ve done what they needed to survive. For some, that means making Olivia Benson a big part of their lives — which is an honor beyond measure — for others, it means building a foundation. We’re strong, and we find a way through.”

When it comes to her rapist, Mariska knows what exactly kind of justice she wants almost three decades after the incident — “an apology.” She said:

“For me, I want an acknowledgment and an apology. I’m sorry for what I did to you. I raped you. I am without excuse.’ That is a beginning. I don’t know what is on the other side of it, and it won’t undo what happened, but I know it plays a role in how I will work through this. This is a painful part of my story. The experience was horrible. But it doesn’t come close to defining me, in the same way that no other single part of my story defines me. No single part of anyone’s story defines them.”


We applaud Mariska for being vulnerable and sharing her story. You can read the entire essay HERE.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence and would like to learn more about resources, consider checking out

[Image via The Drew Barrymore Show/YouTube]

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Jan 10, 2024 12:42pm PDT

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