Mariska Hargitay built an acting career and attained ‘household name’ fame portraying NYPD sex crimes detective, Olivia Benson, on Law and Order: SVU. Now Hargitay is using her fame on TV into a similar fight in the real world, becoming a very public advocate for the victims of sex crimes. As part of this brand transition, Hargitay will be featured in the upcoming HBO documentary, “I am Evidence.” She is also a producer of the program.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Hargitay said speaking out was a natural outgrowth of her fame and her role on the show: “I feel like I was given a gift with this role. I was given a platform. It was a way for me to respond. I’ve had the privilege of having had so many survivors share their stories with me, and I feel a responsibility to that…”
But that was not the only reason Hargitay says she decided to help bring the documentary to life. She cites “outrage” at how many sexual assault victims are managed by a system which, Hargitay says, doesn’t treat them well.
The main narratives of the documentary focus on four rape survivors whose rape kits were ignored in evidence lockers for years, untested and uninvestigated. That, Hargitay says, made her really mad. “I just couldn’t comprehend that in this country this was going on. That they were stockpiling rape kits…”
And that, Hargitay says and the documentary recounts, is just the beginning of the problems within the system. The documentary covers a process that many believe includes systemic victim blaming, when it should be empathetic.
“Compassion and empathy would heal so much, and it’s so simple. Women have carried this burden for so long, and it’s men that need to engage…”
That’s a message that resonates with many, but it will also create some tension among the viewing audience that feels unjustly blamed for the horrors some women face when trying to get justice after being raped. Producers and creators of the program are aware of that dynamic, but believe it’s more important for people to wrestle with the realities and find solutions than to internalize the guilt.
For Hargitay, as for her on-screen character Benson, the driving force for the documentary is simple: “I just want to serve as a role model for unheard voices, to make sure they are heard.”
Hargitay hopes the documentary creates an ongoing conversation, not just quick buzz. A conversation that will create a world that’s safer for and more respectful of women.
Ronn Torossian is a public relations executive