Mariska Hargitay's Tireless Crusade to Achieve Justice for Women

by Alex Quayle TW: Rape, Assault, Injustice

  The continuing instances of rape kits being backlogged in the United States is an unacceptable disservice to rape survivors and, as Mariska Hargitay states, “a perfect microcosm of how we regard these crimes against women in our society and ultimately how we regard women.” Thousands of rape kits sit ignored in evidence storage facilities across the nation, denying survivors the justice they deserve in the wake of their trauma. Mariska Hargitay has been a powerful, vocal activist for sexual assault and rape survivors for years. Now, she’s working on bringing awareness to the prevailing rape kit backlog issue happening in the U.S..

  Mariska Hargitay is well known for her outstanding role as Lieutenant Olivia Benson on the television series, “Law and Order: SVU.” Notably, Hargitay is also the founder and president of Joyful Heart Foundation: an organization with the ultimate goal of reforming society’s response to survivors of assault and abuse — aiming to put an end to the violence altogether.

  Hargitay’s latest project, “I Am Evidence,” revolves around the way our criminal justice system handles rape and sexual assault cases — in particular, the extensive number of untested rape kits.

  In the new documentary, Mariska Hargitay and co-directors Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir chronicle the upsetting injustice of the nation's rape kit backlog. The criminal justice system often fails to prioritize cases of sexual assault and the testing of victims’ rape kits. Hargitay points out that, “Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your case matters.” Her film, “I Am Evidence,” will be premiering on HBO this April with the hopes of shedding light on this detrimental problem.


  The lack of rape kit testing could also be the result of hospitals experiencing shortages of sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs), who can assist in sexual assault cases. However, (as with most legislation that benefits women) efforts to provide more training and resources to effectively fund SANEs have been stalled. Getting these expansions in the field are crucial though, considering only 10 percent of hospitals in the U.S. have a forensic nurse examiner working in their facility. More nurses, specifically those trained to handle the sensitive work of sexual assault, could help put an end to the current rape kit backlog.

  After a survivor’s attack they often encounter difficulties trying to cope with their assault, experiencing emotional complications such as PTSD and depression. In addition, without proper rape kit testing, survivors are at a higher risk of becoming re-victimized. With such a lack of justice being delivered to survivors, through mistreatment and disregard of their traumatic experiences, how can society expect, or even hope for, violence against women to end?

  Hargitay hopes that viewers will be able to take away an important message from the documentary: listening to women and their stories is imperative as we stand together in support of survivors and demand change.

  Alex Quayle is a feminist first, freelance writer second. She lives in Boise, Idaho with her partner, cat, and dwarf hamster. Follow her on Twitter @alexquayle33 for more feminist articles and pictures of her family.