Mariska Hargitay Wants 'SVU' Fans to Ship Something Other Than Bensler

Mariska Hargitay

Mariska Hargitay has been making some impressive headlines recently. She saved a lost girl who mistook her for a real cop on the set of Law & Order: SVU. She gave an impassioned speech at Variety's Power of Women event that addressed the cruel overturning of Harvey Weinstein’s 2020 rape conviction. And she’s far from done making waves.

The actress, producer, advocate and founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, a national nonprofit with a mission to transform society's response to sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, recently teamed up with Purina to unveil "Courageous Together," a new statue by Kristen Visbal, the artist behind New York's famous "Fearless Girl."

The statue features a domestic violence survivor and her dog, connected by a purple leash, taking a courageous first step forward.

The statue was commissioned as part of the Purple Leash Project, an initiative led by Purina and the nonprofit RedRover that aims to help more domestic violence shelters become pet-friendly so that survivors with pets can escape abuse and heal together (and not have to choose between their own safety at that of their beloved companion's). Throughout the year, Purina will be taking the statue to various locations across the country, stopping first at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in Queens, New York, from May 11-14.

Related: 'Law & Order: SVU' Star Mariska Hargitay’s Net Worth in 2024

Ahead of the unveiling, Hargitay spoke to Parade about the initiative, why she's so vocal on the subject of sexual assault and her goal for Olivia Benson in SVU Season 26.

What were your feelings when you first saw the statue?

It sort of took my breath away. I found it to be so powerful and so tender at the same time. She has such a graceful, determined and courageous look in her eye. I was very moved by the beloved, protective gaze of her dog looking at her. But just all the details—her back and the way her hair is up and her shoe, the strength in her legs. It's just so elegant and so regal, and it demands that you address it. It demands that you stop and go, "What is this? And what do I need to know?" This piece asks you to confront what a survivor has to deal with. But the beauty of it also helps us metabolize the subject matter and ask questions in a loving and humane way.

What would you say to a woman who is trying to leave her abusive partner?

I'd have to hear her story and where she is and meet her where she is. It's not a one size fits all. I would mostly be concerned about her safety. And for her to know that she's supported and that she's not alone.

You mentioned that you felt like the world is on your shoulders a little bit on this topic. I feel like a lot of celebrities aren't speaking out as much as you are. Why do you think that is? And what made you feel like you have to be one of the ones to speak out?

Well, first of all, I'm honored to speak out. I want to shout it from the rooftops. I think this is such an important issue. Domestic violence and sexual violence and child abuse, these are epidemics in our country that need attention. The only way to stop it and to change it is by speaking out, and in numbers, because our voices and our collective voices have the power to heal. So it wasn't really a choice for me. We need to do our part as human beings by sharing the weight of this affliction.

My organization Joyful Heart was so aligned with what Purina is doing. Joyful Heart seeks to change the way society responds to victims of abuse. Purina is looking to lighten the load and keep survivors safe, keep them out of isolation and keep them comfortable with a bit of consistency with that unconditional love that we receive from a pet.

That’s something I'd never even thought of.

So many people have said that. That's why I think this campaign is so innovative. It's so human, it supports survivors healing and it seeks to change the landscape of how survivors are met. And the fact that only 20% of shelters are pet friendly and that almost 50% of survivors have delayed leaving their abuser because they had to choose between their safety and the safety of their pets, is just staggering. And so the fact that they won't have to even think about that choice anymore is just healing within itself.

Before we wrap: Do you have a message for Olivia and Elliott shippers?

No, only because I've been asked this question so many times, I can't deal with it. I want them to ship female empowerment. I want them to ship good leadership and the fact that we are in it together. I want them to ship fierce female friendships and women supporting women and allowing each other and ourselves to have our voice.

Related: Mariska Hargitay Reveals She's Fighting for Kelli Giddish to Return to 'Law & Order: SVU'

A lot of fans are also wondering, When is Olivia Benson going to have a nice day? When is the vacation episode?

Can Olivia Benson go to Italy for a month? Just heal. I've asked them to shoot an episode in Paris, but they said no. We'll find some healing. I'll make it happen in Season 26. I will promise you we'll have Olivia Benson go on a vacation.

Next, Everything to Know About 'Law & Order: SVU' Season 26