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Friday, November 14, 2008

Mariska Hargitay Speaks For “Day One”

As I reported in early October, Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order SVU) was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the 35th anniversary luncheon for Day One on Nov. 13 in Providence Rhode Island. Day One is a sexual assault and trauma resource center that was originally founded in 1973 as the Rhode Island Rape Crisis Center.

Here’s the story from the Providence Journal, which talks about Mariska’s appearance at the event:

Mariska Hargitay, left,
and Peg Langhammer, executive director of Day One
Providence Journal/Mary Murphy
Providence Journal
Law and Order star puts focus on Day One’s work

01:00 AM EST on Friday, November 14, 2008

By Amanda Milkovits
Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE –– Her name is Cindy, and nearly 30 years ago she was walking home from college in Providence when someone grabbed her from behind.

A stranger dragged her into the bushes, tore off her clothes and raped her. And then he tried to club her to death with rocks.

The 20-year-old woman barely escaped with her life. And when she was brought to the hospital, a doctor called on a new agency to help the young rape victim.

It was the Rhode Island Rape Crisis Center, now known as Day One, a phrase meant to signal the organization as the first place for sexual assault victims to get help. The center was created 35 years ago to advocate for sexual assault victims of all ages, to educate the public about the crimes and to work toward prevention.

Back in 1973, the atmosphere was different for victims, who were sometimes shamed or blamed for the crimes, and when marital rape wasn’t considered a crime. The center was established to support and empower victims, and it eventually grew to include the Children’s Advocacy Center for evaluation, evidence gathering and treatment of young sexual assault victims. Just last year, Day One provided services for 14,000 people. About 66 percent of the victims were children.

Cindy still remembers the kindness of the Providence police officers, who caught her assailant, and the justice she found in the courts, which sentenced her 16-year-old attacker to six years in prison.

Above all, Cindy remembers the never-flagging compassion and help from the center’s advocates, how they guided her and her family through the aftermath. “At no point in time did they leave my side, or my family’s side,” she said yesterday, outside a fundraiser luncheon held at The Westin Providence to commemorate Day One’s 35th anniversary.

She was one of about 400 people attending the $125-a-plate fundraiser luncheon, and about 100 people purchased $500 tickets for a private reception and photo with the event’s keynote speaker, actress Mariska Hargitay, who plays sex-crimes detective Olivia Benson on NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Hargitay is also the president of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which offers rape survivors “healing retreats” in Hawaii that include swimming with dolphins.

As Hargitay spoke at the luncheon, she recalled letters from fans who told her that they had been sexually assaulted but were afraid to seek help. (Peg Langhammer, Day One’s executive director, says that although statistics show that one in eight Rhode Island women are sexually assaulted, it’s estimated that more than 74 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to the police.)

“They said, ‘I was raped when I was 15. I’m 40 now and I’ve never told anyone.’ … ‘My father is doing things to my sister and I want him to stop. Will you help me?’ ” Hargitay said of the letters. She paused in the silence and appeared to become teary. “I’m a crier,” she explained to the crowd. “But [sexual assault] is just so prevalent. It’s so good we get to talk about this.”

Hargitay said that the letters, coupled with her own trauma of the death of her mother, Jayne Mansfield, who died in a car crash when Hargitay was 3, and her own life-changing car crash at 34, motivated her to form the nonprofit foundation to help sexual assault victims heal by swimming with dolphins.

“I look back on the two accidents that profoundly changed my life, and I feel sad about them,” said Hargitay, now 44. But she said she was grateful for the moments that came after her crash –– her marriage, her son, her role on Special Victims Unit.

“I didn’t know that I’d be on a TV show that would be so much more, or that I’d give voice to victims of sexual assaults,” Hargitay said. “I didn’t know that I would be part of the effort to change the way a country dialogues about this.”

She praised the work of Day One, and the courage of Cindy, who attended the event with her family and who appeared in a video for Day One shown at the fundraiser.

Cindy spoke to a Journal reporter and in a video on projo.com, although she asked that her last name and out-of-state residence not be identified; she still fears her attacker will find her. But as her husband stood nearby, Cindy spoke with strength as she related how the attack had changed her life.

“Believe in yourself. Make every moment count. Don’t wait,” she said. “Because you never know when it can be taken away from you.”

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