Mariska Hargitay fights real-life SVU cases

Mar 11, 2014 at 2:53 p.m. ET

Mariska Hargitay is bringing her Law & Order: SVU character into real life with her latest rape victim initiative.

Mariska Hargitay
Photo credit FayesVision/

It's a case of life imitating art: Mariska Hargitay is fighting for sexual assault victims whose cases have been pushed to the back burner due to a huge backlog of rape kits in Detroit, Michigan.

The Law & Order: SVU star is joining forces with Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to push through legislation aimed at stopping serial rapists through better rape kit testing. Since 2009, Detroit authorities have been wading through a backlog of 11,000 rape kits found in a police storage facility that were never lab tested.

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"Every day in the United States women and men take the courageous step of reporting their rape to the police," Hargitay said at a press conference. "And because of what those individuals have suffered, their bodies are crime scenes. They're living, breathing, feeling crime scenes from which doctors and nurses collect evidence in a sexual assault collection kit.

"This federal funding is a direct result of Kym's tireless and relentless work here in Detroit," Hargitay continued. "I'm here in Detroit because I think we have an awesome opportunity with someone who knows how to do it. If you do it here in Detroit, the rest of the country can figure it out."

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Hargitay founded the Joyful Heart Foundation to work with victims of sexual abuse, child abuse and domestic violence, and said that the backlog seen in Detroit is indicative of a bigger problem, calling it "the clearest and most shocking demonstration of how we regard these crimes in our country."

Hargitay is supporting legislation to provide processes and time frames for rape kit collection and processing as well as tracking. So far, according to the Associated Press, of the 1600 Detroit kits tested, 59 percent have matches in a federal DNA database and 87 serial rapists have been identified, resulting in 10 convictions.