The life of Mariska Hargitay

She’s the star of Law & Order and she’s working to transform society's response to sexual assault and domestic violence. This is Mariska Hargitay’s story.

More about Mariska

She's an advocate for survivors and an Emmy-winning actress who portrays a member of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. This is Mariska Hargitay.

She was born in 1964 in California and was raised in Los Angeles

She is the daughter of Hollywood royalty: Iconic actress and sex symbol Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay an actor who often appeared alongside Mansfield — and was 1955's Mister Universe. When she was 3, she was at the back of a car with her mother and 2 older brothers when it collided with a truck. Her mother died in the crash. She was 34 years old. At 18, Hargitay was crowned Miss Beverly Hills USA. Soon she enrolled in UCLA and started appearing in music videos, including Ronnie Milsap's "She Loves My Car." She also started appearing in TV series such as “Falcon Crest”, “Ellen” and a few roles as a detective. In 1997, she landed a recurring part in ER.

Career defining role

At 35, she was cast in the role that would define her career — a spin-off of the smash hit Law & Order. She was cast as Detective Olivia Benson whose mission is to solve sex crimes in New York. Hargitay completed training with rape crisis advocates to prepare for the role on Law and Order SVU. Over its years as a hit show, her character became a TV icon. Taylor Swift’s cat is even named after her. At 37, she met her husband, actor Peter Hermann, on the set of the show. They married 3 years later and have 3 kids. In 2003, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next to her mother.

An advocate for sexual assault victims

At 40, Hargitay started the Joyful Heart Foundation, and became a fierce advocate for survivors of sex assault. “Being immersed in this material and learning the statistics and learning about the shame and isolation that survivors of sexual violence feel. That is what really called me to start my own foundation, and to respond to the subject matter that I was being immersed in every day and saying in addition to talking about this on television, how can I personally respond and do more and bring the conversation out into the culture.”, she explained. In 2017, she testified in front of Congress about the rape testing kit backlog. It's estimated that hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested in police departments across the U.S. Her humane portrayal of the detective has earned Hargitay an Emmy award Golden Globe Award. In September 2019, “Law and Order: SVU” became the longest-running live action series currently on television.