Television and Documentaries

With Mariska Hargitay at our helm and a number of board members and supporters in the entertainment and media industries, Joyful Heart is uniquely positioned to raise awareness about sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. By influencing storylines on television, we seek to share information, dispel myths about our issues, responsibly and accurately reflect the voices and experiences of our survivor community and ultimately galvanize change.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is one of the few platforms that bring these issues into the light quite literally—through televisions in living rooms across the United States. It was the show that inspired Mariska to create the Joyful Heart Foundation—the scripts she read, the statistics she learned and the stories she heard from thousands of survivors who wrote to her. With the support show’s creator, Dick Wolf, and producers and writers, we have been privileged to share our expertise with the SVU team to help shed light and share information on the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. 

Joyful Heart has held two workshops with the writers of the show. We brought together experts—both from Joyful Heart’s staff and from our program partners—to reach millions of viewers with even more information about our issues. 

  • Presenting information on violence and response. One recent workshop focused on how trauma is experienced by survivors and how it lives on in the mind, body and spirit, as well as how various systems respond to survivors. It was facilitated by Joyful Heart staff and board members, with trauma experts Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and Dr. Rebecca Campbell presenting information. The writers have brought this information into the light, raising awareness through the show about tonic immobility—a response to trauma that few people know about—law enforcement, prosecutors and the members of the medical community included. To read more, click here.
  • Discussing the role of men—as survivors, as bystanders and sometimes, as perpetrators. Another recent workshop with the writers focused on how men are affected by these issues—as survivors, as witnesses and bystanders to violence and as perpetrators. We were joined by Dr. David Lisak, board member of 1in6 and prolific researcher whose work focuses long-term effects of sexual abuse in men, the relationship between child abuse and violence, and the motives and characteristics of perpetrators of rape. Steve LePore, founder and Executive Director of 1in6, presented on male survivors and the long-term effects of abuse throughout the lifespan. Ted Bunch, co-founder of A CALL TO MEN, shared information on why men perpetrate violence and how males are socialized and taught to disrespect and devalue women and girls. To read about “Personal Fouls,” the first episode in the show’s history that dealt directly with abuse perpetrated by a trusted coach, click here

Joyful Heart also consults with writers on specific episodes dealing most directly with our issues. We have also produced a number of public service announcements (PSAs) with the cast of Law & Order: SVU for these episodes.

  • “Behave.” In 2011, Dr. Neal Baer, Joyful Heart board member and then Executive Producer of Law & Order: SVU, heard the story of Helena, a rape survivor whose rape kit went untested in Los Angeles’s rape kit backlog for nearly a decade. Her story inspired him to produce an episode directly addressing the backlog, called “Behave.” Joyful Heart staff consulted on the writing of the episode to ensure issue, clinical and policy-related accurary. The episode drew in more than 15 million viewers, and over 10 million impressions about the episode were generated on Twitter. To read more about "Behave" and to watch the accompanying PSA about the rape kit backlog with the cast of SVU, click here.
  • “Personal Fouls.” In 2011, Joyful Heart launched our Engaging Men initiative with the airing of an episode of Law & Order: SVU called “Personal Fouls.” It was the first in the series that dealt directly with sexual abuse of male children and adolescents by a trusted coach. Little did we know it would air for the first time just weeks before the tragedies at Penn State, Syracuse and Poly Prep in Brooklyn were brought to light. For the broadcast, Joyful Heart worked with 1in6 and A CALL TO MEN to produce a PSA and make resources available for viewers to find information, support and ways to get involved. The episode, which reaired with another PSA from Mariska Hargitay, reached over 11 million households. To read more about the episode and to watch the PSA with the cast of SVU, click here.

Telling Amy's Story

In 2010, with the support of the Verizon Foundation, Penn State Public Broadcasting created Telling Amy’s Story, a documentary that chronicled the events leading up to the death of Amy Homan McGee, a mother of two who was fatally shot by her husband in their home in Pennsylvania. The murder was the final act of violence in a history of cruelty and abuse. In partnership with the Verizon Foundation, Mariska Hargitay filmed an opening and closing to the film and Joyful Heart promoted awareness of the documentary and its message. To read more about this effort, click here.

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