SVU’s Mariska Hargitay opens up about sexual assault and justice

‘The experience was horrible. But it doesn’t come close to defining me’

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“Law & Order: SVU” star Mariska Hargitay, 60, recently penned an essay for PEOPLE. In it, she opens up about her own experience with sexual assault and explores what justice means for her.

“He was a friend. Then he wasn’t,” she wrote about the incident.

Hargitay was sexually assaulted when she was in her thirties by someone she considered a friend. In the essay, she describes trying to set boundaries even though she was terrified at the moment. Then, like many sexual assault victims, she froze during the assault — a common “trauma response when there is no option to escape.”

“Dissociation is one of the many defense mechanisms the brain can use to cope with the trauma of sexual violence. It’s often described as an ‘out of body’ experience where someone feels detached from reality. It may be upsetting for someone to realize that they have dissociated, but it is a natural reaction to trauma,” explained the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

“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,” Hargitay wrote. “I occasionally had talked about what this person did to me, but I minimized it.”

The more Hargitay talked about what happened, the more she saw a shift within herself, now she says she’s able to see clearly what happened and understand the trauma she went through.

Hargitay found strength in those around her, particularly fans of the show and survivors who’ve come up to her to share how much of an inspiration she is to them. For the Emmy Award-winning actress, the feeling is mutual and she too looks to them for strength.

“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.”

When it comes to finding justice and healing, Hargitay notes that that can look different for each survivor. Personally, she focuses on accountability.

“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.”

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit for resources.