‘I Am Evidence’

‘Law & Order: SVU’ actress leads push to test America’s gigantic rape kit backlog

Mariska Hargitay (Photo by Michael Tran/Getty Images)

Influenced by her starring role on Law & Order: SVU, actress Mariska Hargitay has been quietly leading a remarkable push against sexual assault — starting by eliminating America’s massive rape kit backlog. After receiving letters from fans of the show who confided to her about their own experiences with sexual violence and learning about the more than 225,000 untested rape kits across the country, Hargitay founded the Joyful Heart Foundation in order to help victims of sexual assault to finally receive justice. Hargitay appeared on Monday night at a premiere for HBO’s I Am Evidence, a documentary that explores the Joyful Heart Foundation’s efforts and centers on the remarkable achievements of Kym Worthy, a Detroit prosecutor who recently finished testing more than 11,000 of Detroit’s forgotten rape kits. In her comments, she noted that a recurring theme in untested rape kits were case notes from officers who routinely disbelieved and discouraged victims — especially when the victims were black women.

“One of the things that we hope so much that comes through in the film is the fact that many people, unfortunately law enforcement as well, don’t understand the neurobiology of trauma,” said Hargitay. “We deal with it on SVU, tonic immobility, fight or flight, freezing, you hear so many survivors say, ‘I froze’ — that’s hardwired into us … that idea of law enforcement literally not understanding. They get confused — I’m not even blaming — they just go, ‘Well she didn’t say anything, she didn’t scream, she didn’t fight back, she didn’t do this or that,’ and it’s because they don’t understand trauma.”

Hargiay also noted that victim-blaming attitudes are systemic in society, and that until recently she had harbored such notions herself.

“I was one of those people who had some of those biases. I was!” she admitted. “And I got checked, and I got educated. I’d love to sit here and tell you how evolved and wise I was from the beginning … but it wasn’t like that for me.”

By continuing to raise awareness, she said, she hopes she can convince others to change their minds as well.

Read the full story at The Daily Beast.

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