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Mariska Hargitay Recalls Being Raped by ‘A Friend’ in Her 30s: ‘I Checked Out of My Body’

Mariska Hargitay Recalls Being Raped by 'A Friend' in Her 30s: ‘I Checked Out of My Body'
Mariska Hargitay. Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Mariska Hargitay is opening up about her personal experience with sexual assault, 25 years after making her TV debut as Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

“A man raped me in my thirties,” Hargitay, 60, wrote in a powerful essay for People, published on Wednesday, January 10. “It wasn’t sexual at all. It was dominance and control. Overpowering control.”

Hargitay revealed it was “a friend” who had raped her.

“I tried all the ways I knew to get out of it. I tried to make jokes, to be charming, to set a boundary, to reason, to say no. He grabbed me by the arms and held me down. I was terrified. I didn’t want it to escalate to violence,” she wrote. “I now know it was already sexual violence, but I was afraid he would become physically violent. I went into freeze mode, a common trauma response when there is no option to escape. I checked out of my body.”

Mariska Hargitay Recalls Being Raped by 'A Friend' in Her 30s: ‘I Checked Out of My Body'
Bauzen/GC Images

Related: Sharing Their Stories: Stars Who Survived Abuse

Initially, Hargitay said she “couldn’t process” what had happened.

“So, I cut it out. I removed it from my narrative. I now have so much empathy for the part of me that made that choice because that part got me through it,” she wrote. “It never happened. Now I honor that part: I did what I had to do to survive.”

The actress “minimized” what had happened to her in conversations with her husband, Peter Hermann. But the people closest to Hargitay allowed her to have a “reckoning” about the situation.

“Now I’m able to see clearly what was done to me. I understand the neurobiology of trauma,” she said. “Trauma fractures our mind and our memory. The way a mirror fractures.”

Through her role as fictional NYPD Captain Olivia Benson — a character she’s played since 1999 — Hargitay has been able to connect with sexual assault survivors. She also created the Joyful Heart foundation in 2004, which has a mission to “transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, support survivors’ healing, and end this violence forever,” according to the foundation’s website.

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Hargitay wrote that she created Joyful Heart to help survivors but now thinks of it as a way to build “on the outside so I could do the work on the inside.”
Hargitay never thought of herself as a survivor following the experience.

“This is a painful part of my story. The experience was horrible,” she wrote. “But it doesn’t come close to defining me, in the same way that no other single part of my story defines me. No single part of anyone’s story defines them.”

If you or anyone you know has been sexually abused, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). A trained staff member will provide confidential, judgment-free support as well as local resources to assist in healing, recovering and more.

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