Mariska Hargitay also known as Olivia Benson of Law and Order SVU, did not set out to become an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, but after receiving thousands of letters, emails and calls from sexual assault survivors disclosing to her that her character as a police detective on the TV show gave them the courage to acknowledge and address their histories of sexual assault.
She recently stated: “Survivors still largely face the same cultural attitudes that contribute to silencing them and preventing them from coming forward as when I started on the show, (19 years ago) And despite the prevalence of these crimes — to which statistics attest — these issues remain the most underfunded, under-researched, under-regarded social ills of our day.”
I have worked as both an advocate and a therapist for survivors of sexual assault for over a decade and I understand what she is saying. As a culture we are not comfortable talking about sex and sexuality, so it is an unfortunate result that we also do not discuss and acknowledge the reality that sexual assault continues all around us.
I am writing this for the survivors of sexual assault who have not felt safe enough to speak about their experiences. Please know you are not alone. You are right if you think you might be judged, and no one will believe you. You are also right if you think others will blame you for what happened. However, there are plenty of others who won’t blame you, who won’t judge you and who will believe you. The shame that accompanies sexual assault prevents many from seeking help. Please know that the shame is not on you. You have nothing to be ashamed about.
When I am asked “how to prevent sexual assault” I always say that one of the best ways is to talk about sex and sexuality as a normal healthy part of life. Many of my sexual assault victims will begin by saying, “I had sex for the first time when I was raped. “ Using the terms “sex” and “rape” interchangeably is a result of a culture that has not openly discussed sex and allows people to think that sex and rape can be one and the same. Sex and sexual assault are NOT the same thing. Unless someone has been properly educated on sex and sexuality, they may not truly understand that if they were sexually assaulted that was not sex it was assault.
Mariska Hargitay founded the Joyful Heart Foundation, as a resource for everyone to learn more about sexual assault and provides resources for those who want help or are thinking about getting help. She beautifully writes: “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 back in –to banish the darkness and let healing begin.”