SVU’ star Mariska Hargitay shares essay on her experience with sexual assault

“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” star Mariska Hargitay opened up for the first time about her experience with sexual assault, writing in a first-person essay for People magazine that she was raped in her 30s.

“It wasn’t sexual at all. It was dominance and control. Overpowering control,” she wrote in an essay published Wednesday.

“He was a friend. Then he wasn’t. 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. 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,” the actor wrote.

Hargitay, who created the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 to help survivors of sexual violence and abuse, said she could not process what happened to her so she “removed it from my narrative.”

She wrote that she views that as a survival technique.

“I now have so much empathy for the part of me that made that choice because that part got me through it. It never happened. Now I honor that part: I did what I had to do to survive,” she said in her essay.

Over the years, Hargitay, 59, started telling those closest to her what happened. She said “they were the first ones to call it what it was. They were gentle and kind and careful, but their naming it was important.”

“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. The way a mirror fractures,” she wrote.

Mariska Hargitay on the set of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."
Mariska Hargitay on the set of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”Heidi Gutman / NBC

Hargitay, who plays squad captain Olivia Benson on “Law & Order: SVU,” said survivors often tell her how the show has helped them heal, but she now realizes that they have been “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 — which is an honor beyond measure — for others, it means building a foundation. We’re strong, and we find a way through,” she wrote.

The actor said her hope is that sexual violence will end and the power structures put in place that allow it to happen will change. As for justice, she wants an “acknowledgment and an apology.”

“That is a beginning. I don’t know what is on the other side of it, and it won’t undo what happened, but I know it plays a role in how I will work through this,” Hargitay wrote.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, these resources can help