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Mariska Hargitay recalls being raped in her 30s in powerful essay about overcoming trauma

<i>Gotham/GC Images/Getty Images</i><br/>Mariska Hargitay in New York City in September 2023.
Gotham/GC Images/Getty Images
Mariska Hargitay in New York City in September 2023.

By Alli Rosenbloom, CNN

(CNN) — Mariska Hargitay revealed in a moving personal essay that decades ago, she was raped – but the “Law & Order: SVU” star wrote that she won’t let the experience “define” her.

“A man raped me in my thirties,” she wrote at the start of her piece, published by People magazine on Wednesday. “It wasn’t sexual at all. It was dominance and control. Overpowering control.”

Hargitay recalled the man “was a friend” and described the act in detail. “I went into freeze mode, a common trauma response when there is no option to escape. I checked out of my body,” she recalled.

The actor wrote about how for many years she coped with her trauma privately, by being an outspoken advocate for victims of sexual violence and by focusing on her work with the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization that spreads awareness about sexual violence and provides support for survivors that Hargitay founded in 2004.

She also coped by cutting the experience out of her mind, writing, “I did what I had to do to survive.”

“Now I’m able to see clearly what was done to me. I understand the neurobiology of trauma. Trauma fractures our mind and our memory,” Hargitay wrote, adding that her own experience wasn’t just a case of an “unwanted” advance.

“That’s why I’ve talked so much about acquaintance rape, because many people still think of rape as a man jumping out of the bushes,” she wrote. “This was a friend who made a unilateral decision.”

While acknowledging that this is a “painful” part of her story, she wrote that “it doesn’t come close to defining me” and hopes that by sharing her story, others who’ve experienced acts of sexual violence feel empowered to talk about it, too.

Hargitay is currently celebrating a milestone 25 years starring as Olivia Benson on “SVU,” a character often depicted as bringing justice for victims of sexual assault and abuse.

In her essay, Hargitay honored the sexual assault survivors who’ve watched the show, writing, “they’re the ones who’ve been a source of strength for me. They’ve experienced darkness and cruelty, an utter disregard for another human being, and they’ve done what they needed to survive.”

“For some, that means making Olivia Benson a big part of their lives,” she contiued, adding the sentiment is “an honor beyond measure.”

At the end of her essay, Hargitay expressed gratitude for where she is some 30 years on from the experience. And although she is “still proudly in process,” she wrote that she is renewed and “flooded with compassion for all of us who have suffered.”

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