Mariska Hargitay Reveals Sad News

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Actress Mariska Hargitay may be better known as Olivia Benson, the character she plays on the TV drama “Law & Order: SVU.” Now, she’s opening up about her personal life exclusively to PEOPLE. In fact, she’s featured in this week’s cover story.

Some of the things Hargitay shared with PEOPLE are happy and silly, such as how she and her daughter, who are both huge Taylor Swift fans, had a full circle moment with Swift when they decided to name their cat Karma, a reference to the lyrics of one of Swift’s songs. Even Swift loved the name, especially after she’d named her own cat after Hargitay’s character, Olivia Benson. When Swift found out about the name, she commented, “Are you serious?!!!! Nothing has ever come more full circle. LOVE THIS SO MUCH!!”

However, not everything she shared was as happy and fun as a full circle cat moment. In fact, she wrote a very personal essay in her own words about her experience with rape.

She started the essay very bluntly, and got right to the point about what happened. She wrote, “A man raped me in my thirties. It wasn’t sexual at all. It was dominance and control. Overpowering control.” She added, “He was a friend. Then he wasn’t.”

Hargitay also shared her reaction when it happened. She explained, “I tried all the ways I knew to get out of it.” She added, “He grabbed me by the arms and held me down. I was terrified.” When she gave up trying to escape, she coped in another way. She wrote, “I went into freeze mode, a common trauma response when there is no option to escape. I checked out of my body.”

She went on to explain that it took her a long time to come to terms with what happened to her. She didn’t even consider it rape for a long time. She explained, “I couldn’t process it. I couldn’t believe that it happened. That it could happen. So I cut it out. I removed it from my narrative.” She added, “I occasionally had talked about what this person did to me, but I minimized it. My husband Peter remembers me saying, ‘I mean, it wasn’t rape.'”

Eventually, with the help of the people closest to her, she realized that she was wrong. It was rape. She wrote, “Now I’m able to see clearly what was done to me.”

One thing that Hargitay pointed out was that “many people still think of rape as a man jumping out of the bushes.” That’s not what happened to her. She called it “acquaintance rape.” She wrote, “This was a friend who made a unilateral decision.”

Hargitay sums up the experience as “a painful part of my story,” but she’s not letting it be her whole story. She wrote, “The experience was horrible. But it doesn’t come close to defining me, in the same way that no other single part of my story defines me. No single part of anyone’s story defines them.”