Mariska Hargitay Denied Her Own Rape. Then, a 'Reckoning'

'Law & Order: SVU' star, 59, details sexual assault in her 30s in 'People' essay
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 11, 2024 4:45 PM CST
Law & Order: SVU Star Reveals Rape by Friend in Her 30s
Mariska Hargitay attends the Glamour Women of the Year Awards at The Grill & The Pool on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022, in New York.   (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

"It wasn't sexual at all. It was dominance and control. Overpowering control." That's how Mariska Hargitay, known for her role as Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU, describes a rape she endured decades ago, revealed for the first time in what CNN calls a "moving personal essay" published Wednesday in People. The 59-year-old actor says that the sexual assault happened when she was in her 30s, at the hands of a former friend who "grabbed me by the arms and held me down." Hargitay details how she froze during the attack, "a common trauma response when there is no option to escape." She adds: "I checked out of my body." Following the rape, Hargitay says she excised the experience from her mind, though now she says she respects that self-protective measure, noting, "I did what I had to do to survive."

Over the years, Hargitay advocated for sexual assault survivors, including through the Joyful Heart Foundation she founded, but she still had a hard time processing what had happened to her personally. "Then I had my own realization. My own reckoning," she writes. Hargitay adds that she now hopes to shift the conversation about sexual assault. "Tell someone you've survived cancer, and you're celebrated," she notes. "I want the same response for sexual assault survivors. I want no shame with the victim." "This is a painful part of my story," Hargitay adds. "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." Read her essay in full here. (If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE [4673] or go to

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