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Our last HERstory, Senator Mazie Hirono, represents Hawaii in the U.S. Senate, and our next featured woman had a life-changing experience while visiting Hawaii in 2002! Mariska Hargitay is most famous for her role as Detective Olivia Benson on Law and Order: SVU.

Mariska’s role as Detective Benson forces her to confront difficult issues in each new episode. To prepare for her role, Mariska underwent training as a sexual assault crisis counselor. She was stunned to hear of just how many women suffer from domestic abuse each year – one in three women will be physically or sexually abused during her lifetime.  Mariska has made it her work, both on and off screen, to help those in need.  “Helping another woman is helping yourself, your mother, your sister, your children. It’s important that the shame be lifted so that people can heal and don’t let a life event define who they are.”

Her off-camera work, inspired in part by an experience in Hawaii, has helped thousands of people. While snorkeling in Kona in 2002, she was surrounded by a pod of dolphins. Of the experience, she said, “I thought I was having a heart attack. It felt like a baptism. Whatever it was or wasn’t, the point is, when I came out, I felt a serious heart opening. And something in me healed that day.”

That experience, and her work on screen led her to open the Joyful Heart Foundation, dedicated to helping victims of sexual assault. According to Joyful Heart, “Since our inception in 2004, we have raised over $14 million to support our programs and directly served over 13,500 individuals through our Healing & Wellness programs. We have secured more than one billion impressions in digital and print media about our issues. And we’ve effected policy changes in jurisdictions from New York to California.”  Mariska has been a role model for women everywhere. 

March is Women’s History Month! To celebrate, we’re spotlighting our exchange alumni, famous stories, and unsung heroes. These women have shown us all that #ItOnlyTakesOne to raise the bar, set a new standard, or make a positive impact. Share your favorite stories for Women’s History Month with us on social media by tagging them with #ItOnlyTakesOne.

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