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Mariska Hargitay Helps Unveil Statue to Support Domestic Violence Survivors With Pets

The new statue is from Fearless Girl artist Kristen Visbal.

By Stephanie Gomulka

Mariska Hargitay is championing a "meaningful initiative” to support survivors with pets.

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As part of its ongoing Purple Leash Project, the pet food company Purina partnered with the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit actress to reveal a new statue highlighting an issue many survivors face in the U.S. when looking to leave an abuser: less than 20% of domestic violence shelters allow pets.

“The idea that 50 percent of victims of domestic violence stay longer in their abusive relationship because they’re concerned about their pet’s safety and Purina is looking to make all shelters pet-friendly was so moving and meaningful to me,” Hargitay told NBC Insider in a sit-down interview about the partnership.

Mariska Hargitay on domestic violence awareness statue, Courageous Together

Portraying Captain Olivia Benson means the actress and producer is no stranger to listening to survivors' stories.

“Survivors of domestic violence often live in isolation, and the idea that they could bring their families with them and their entire family with them is so healing,” Hargitay said, highlighting the healing benefits of allowing survivors to move forward safely with their pets. “We must do everything that we can to support survivors.”

Artist Kristen Visbal designed Fearless Girl, a statue of a young girl, which debuted staring down the well-known Charging Bull near Wall Street. Her latest bronze work of art, Courageous Together, shows a woman with her hair in a ponytail, a bag slung over her shoulder, and a dog by her side connected by a vibrant, purple leash.

Mariska Hargitay helps Purina unveil “Courageous Together,” a new statue by Kristen Visbal in NYC

“It’s so powerful, it’s so elegant” Hargitay said about her initial reaction to seeing the statue. “I was really, really bowled over, but also…what I found so stunning was the determination and the strength in her face and the way the dog is looking at her so lovingly.”

Hargitay views the statue as a conversation starter.

“It’s a stunning piece of art, which also invites the conversation and invites people to confront something that is historically and understandably difficult for people to talk about,” Hargitay said.

With the help of grants, the goal of the larger project is to ensure at least a quarter of all DV shelters offer pet-friendly services by the end of 2025, according to its website.

Mariska Hargitay's cat Karma and dog Kaia.

Hargitay has a dog named Kaia and Cat named Karma. Her cat’s name is inspired by Taylor Swift’s Midnights track and a sweet response to the Grammy winner naming one of her beloved cats after SVU’s Olivia Benson.

Mariska Hargitay’s advocacy work on and off-screen

Playing Benson was a catalyst to her learning more about “staggering statistics about sexual assault” and hearing from real survivors. As a result, she founded the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization focused on changing society’s response to domestic violence, better support survivors, and end abuse.

Her advocacy stretches to speaking out to support survivors and working to end the backlog of untested rape kits across the country. In 2017, she produced the documentary I Am Evidence, highlighting the harsh realities sexual assault survivors face.

Where can you see the new Courageous Together statue?

Hargitay posed with the statue this week in New York at its unveiling.

“If you take it in…there’s a visceral response that we have to it,” Hargitay said about Courageous Together.

The statue will continue to make appearances in several spots across the country this year. To kick things off, it will be at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show May 11th to the 14th in Queens, New York.

If you’re experiencing domestic violence or know someone who is, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.