Founder's Corner

A Message from Mariska

It all started for me when I began my work on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit over a decade ago. In my research for my role, I encountered statistics that shocked me:

  • One in three women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.
  • Every two minutes in the United States, someone is sexually assaulted.
  • More than five children die every day in this country as a result of child abuse and neglect, and up to 15 million children witness domestic violence in their homes each year.

I was also getting letters from viewers who were disclosing their stories of abuse to me. Normally, I’d get letters saying “Hi, can I please have an autographed picture”, but now it was different: “I’m fifteen and my dad has been raping me since I was eleven and I’ve never told anyone.”

I remember my breath going out of me when the first letter came, and I’ve gotten thousands like it since then.

That these individuals would reveal something so intensely personal—often for the very first time—to someone they knew only as a character on television demonstrated to me how desperate they were to be heard, believed, supported, and healed.

Although every survivor’s story is her own, some common themes stood out in what they shared.

The first was pain—I was struck again and again by the depth of the betrayal these women had suffered, by how they defined themselves by what they were enduring, and how devastating violence and abuse are.

The second theme was isolation. The word “alone” appeared again and again. Whether a survivor was writing from midtown Manhattan or from a ranch in Waimea—she felt alone. She could have no one around her or everyone around her—it didn’t matter—she was isolated in shame and in the fear of the consequences of speaking out.

And lastly, the letters spoke of courage. And actually, the letters themselves were incredible, awe-inspiring acts of courage. I was holding courage in my hands, because the act of reaching out for help—the act of breaking the silence that imprisons so many survivors— is deeply courageous.

 I obviously had my role to play on television, but I felt a great responsibility to these brave women and men and wanted them to know that they had been heard and that they could have hope. I studied the subject, trained to become a crisis counselor and used my visibility as an actress to become an advocate. I knew I wanted to play a role in healing that pain, ending the isolation, and honoring the great courage survivors were showing by reaching out for help. 

The result was the Joyful Heart Foundation.

I started the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 to help survivors of sexual assault heal their minds, bodies and spirits and reclaim their lives. In creating programs for our participants, we quickly realized that everyone heals differently. We choose approaches that engage the mind, body and spirit for healing purposes and try to discover the strategies that work for each individual. We provide an extensive network of resources and our own groundbreaking retreats that complement traditional counseling and therapy. 

Since then, we have expanded Joyful Heart's mission and vision. We have had thousands of people participate in our pioneering retreats and wellness programs and have reached millions more through national public awareness campaigns, as well as this website.

I couldn't be prouder of the staff and Board of Directors who are working to move Joyful Heart forward each and every day. All of us know that it takes courage to turn towards these issues, to risk talking about them. We know that talking isn't always easy. So from me—from all of us—thank you for having the conversation.

When people are abused and assaulted, it is like the doors to their souls slam shut. The goal of Joyful Heart is to let the light, and the life, back in—to banish the darkness and let the healing begin.

- Mariska Hargitay, Founder & President of the Joyful Heart Foundation

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