Mariska Hargitay Says She ‘Feels Lighter’ After Opening Up About Rape: ‘It Was Time to Not Carry That’

"For me, naming it was really powerful," the 'Law & Order: SVU" star said

<p>TODAYshow/X</p> Mariska Hargitay on the


Mariska Hargitay on the 'Today' show

Mariska Hargitay says the process of going public about her story contributed to her healing process.

The Law & Order: SVU star penned a powerful and candid first-person essay earlier this month for PEOPLE's cover story, revealing for the first time that a man raped her when she was in her 30s.

And on Thursday, Hargitay, 59, sat down with Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb on the Today show, where she explained the relief she felt after sharing her writing.

"I think it’s a matter of physics, right?" she said. "If we hold a weight, it’s very heavy. But if it’s sand and we all hold a piece of it and we carry it for each other in our society, it’s not as heavy. So for me, naming it was really powerful, and I feel lighter. And it was time not to carry that."

Related: Mariska Hargitay Shares Her Experience in Her Own Words: A Rape. A Reckoning. A Renewal (Exclusive)

In Hargitay's essay, she did not name her attacker but said that the man who raped her was someone she thought of as a friend.

"It wasn't sexual at all. It was dominance and control. Overpowering control," wrote Hargitay. "I tried all the ways I knew to get out of it. I tried to make jokes, to be charming, to set a boundary, to reason, to say no. He grabbed me by the arms and held me down. I was terrified. I didn't want it to escalate to violence. I now know it was already sexual violence, but I was afraid he would become physically violent. I went into freeze mode, a common trauma response when there is no option to escape. I checked out of my body."

Related: Mariska Hargitay Is Excited to Be Turning 60: 'I'm Stronger Than I've Ever Been' (Exclusive)

Unable to process what she went through, Hargitay said that she "cut it out" and "removed it from my narrative."

But decades later, she's standing in her truth. "I now have so much empathy for the part of me that made that choice because that part got me through it," she said. "It never happened. Now I honor that part: I did what I had to do to survive."

Though "the experience was horrible" and "a painful part of my story," Hargitay stressed in her essay that "it doesn't come close to defining me."

Virginia Sherwood/NBC Mariska Hargitay on 'Law & Order: SVU'
Virginia Sherwood/NBC Mariska Hargitay on 'Law & Order: SVU'

For 25 years on Law & Order: SVU, Hargitay has played Olivia Benson, a police detective (now captain) who strives to bring justice to survivors of sexual violence. Off camera, the advocate built her Joyful Heart foundation to "help survivors of abuse and sexual violence heal."

Related: Mariska Hargitay Celebrates 25 Years of Law & Order: SVU and Turning 60: 'This Powerful Woman Emerged' (Exclusive)

On Today, she said she felt it was important in her essay to call out what happened to her by name. It's advice she was given to by "one of my best friends on this earth," Regina.

"She'd just grab me and say, ‘Mariska, name everything. Name it,’ " Hargitay recalled. "And when she first said it, I wasn’t even sure that I fully understood it. But there’s moments in our life when people give us these gifts of wisdom. And then we grok them, right? The penny drops. And it was so important to me to write that article, for that reason exactly — to name it."

"But also, I said, ‘A man raped me. I wasn’t raped. A man raped me,' " stressed Hargitay. "There’s a big difference."

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She went on to say that she was finally ready to discuss what happened as she trusted her inner voice — something she suggests others do.

"It took a certain maturity and compassion," she said. "And I was listened to and, most importantly, I listened to myself. And that’s what I urge people to do is honor and listen — really listen — to that little inner voice that we all carry. And she’ll guide you." 

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to

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