Mariska Hargitay normally tackles fictional problems as Det. Olivia Benson on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” but Wednesday evening, she addressed the Democratic National Convention to speak about a very real problem: the backlog of untested rape kits in the United States.
"Over 20 years ago, I was shocked to find out how many people including children experience physical or sexual abuse," Hargitay said. "Testing kits not only makes our country safer, but it sends a vital message to survivors that what happened to them matters."
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"The most important thing you can say to a survivor is, 'I hear you,'" she continued. "If you’re silent you’re complicit, and we’re just getting started."
The Emmy winner also stated her support of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
"I’m voting for Joe Biden for my daughter, for my sons, for all of our children," she said.
Hargitay has long been an advocate for victims of sexual assault. She started the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004, which aims to end sexual and domestic assaults, support survivors’ healing and clear the rape kit backlog.
When someone is a victim of a possible sexual assault, the victim can choose to undergo a rape kit. a doctor or nurse takes pictures and swabs for any evidence left behind by their attacker. The invasive test takes hours to complete.
There is not a national system for counting or tracking how many of these rape kits have not been processed; however, Hargitay said her foundation estimates there are hundreds of thousands of untested kits in police and crime lab storage facilities across the U.S.
Hargitay met Biden in 2013, and together they created the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative in 2014, which has the Justice Department provide local communities to test backlogged kits, as well as create teams to investigate and prosecute cases connected to the backlog.