WHO IS SHE? (1)
Mariska Hargitay, born on January 23rd, 1964, is an actress best known for her iconic role as Olivia Benson. Now in its 21st season, Hargitay has been playing Benson since 1999 and appearing in nearly every episode. She has received many awards for her work on the show.
Olivia Benson was a detective and is now the captain of the NYPD's Special Victims Unit, and each week she helps not only to solve sex crimes, but to provide support for and counsel victims of sexual assault and rape. Her character is compassionate and understanding, seemingly much like herself.
Hargitay is married to actor Peter Hermann, and they have 3 children together, 2 of whom they adopted.
THE JOYFUL HEART FOUNDATION
Mariska's work on the show lead her to founding the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004, an organization that provides support to survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.
As of 2010, the foundation had sent over 5,000 women and children to therapeutic programs, and by 2011 it had raised $20 million.
She regularly receives fan mail from survivors who have had a connection to her character.
END THE BACKLOG
A portion of the Joyful Heart Foundation is another initiative entitled End the Backlog, with a goal of ending the rape kit backlog in the United States. (2)
Every 92 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S. At least 2 people will be assaulted in the time it takes you to read this article. When someone is assaulted, their body becomes part of the crime scene. And to analyze that crime scene, a rape kit is conducted. The rape kit includes photos, swabs and an invasive physical exam of the entire body. It can take up to 4-6 hours to complete. (2)
Though a rape kit is evidence of an assault just like hair or fingerprints are evidence of a robbery, and though someone who had already been sexually assaulted sat there for 4-6 hours while they were invasively examined, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested in police departments and crime lab storage facilities across the country. (2)
This is a result of 2 distinct problems: Either 1, the kit is put into evidence but DNA analysis is never requested, or 2, DNA evidence has been requested but it has never come back or been followed up on. (2)
There is no database that allows one to be sure of the total amount of untested kits nationwide, and there is no federal law that mandates the tracking and testing of rape kits. (2)
Every kit represents a survivor. And even though there may be reasons to let kits go untested, each and every kit should be for many reasons. (3)
First and foremost, the DNA can help to identify serial rapists. Having the same DNA pop up in many kits would be an indicator that a predator is on the loose. (3)
Additionally, even if one argues that a rape kit shouldn't be tested because the perpetrator has already been caught, it should still be tested. Perhaps you know that he or she sexually assaulted one person, but testing the kit could allow for a pattern to be found and other assaults to be solved. (3)
The DNA can also help connect the dots in other crimes, from burglary to homicide. Testing the DNA from a rape kit allows a definite criminal's DNA to be in the system. (3)
Additionally, it can save police department's money. In Cuyahoga County, OH, after testing 7,000 backlogged rape kits and investigating each of them, serial criminals were caught and it saved the county an estimated $38 million. (3)
But beyond the logistic reasons to test rape kits, they should be tested because it sends the powerful message to victims that they matter. That their bodies should not have been assaulted, and that the evidence their body may contain is worth finding because they matter. (3)
WHAT DOES END THE BACKLOG ACTUALLY DO? (4)
Through many means, the goal of End the Backlog is to eliminate untested rape kits nationwide and prevent a backlog from ever building up again.
They do this through trying to secure legislature on both a federal and state level to make new practices as rape kits come in so they don't end up sitting there untested. They also implement training courses and teach best practices at jurisdictions throughout the nation.
And, of course, they provide education and awareness for their efforts. If you don't know there's a rape kit backlog, how would you know to help?
Today, an absolute icon, amazing actress and world-changing activist turns 56 years old. As a birthday gift to her, consider donating to End the Backlog. Happy birthday, Mariska!