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Law & Order: SVU - 5 Facts You Might Not Have Known About Olivia Benson

Olivia Benson is, without question, one of the most famous and beloved characters in TV history. Played by Mariska Hargitay since "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" premiered in 1999, Olivia has been a staple of the "Law & Order" franchise, and millions of fans around the world feel comforted by her mere presence on their screens as she gives it her all and tracks down people who commit the worst crimes imaginable.

There's a lot you probably already know about Olivia. She's most famous for her long partnership with Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), and now that Meloni is starring in the new spin-off "Law & Order: Organized Crime," they've been able to reunite as the two shows converge. Everybody's aware that Olivia's mother was sexually assaulted and that Olivia is the product of that assault, which drives her to hunt down sexual abusers. Even casual fans know by now that in later seasons, she adopted a son named Noah, creating a family for herself. But what are some details about Olivia Benson you might not know? From nods to Hargitay's real life to the character's connection to one of the world's biggest pop stars, here are a few lesser-known facts about this famous fictional detective.

Olivia Benson has had a major real-life impact on Mariska Hargitay

Playing Olivia Benson has been an incredibly personal journey for Mariska Hargitay, and after reading so many scripts about violent sexual assaults and miscarriages of justice, the actress was driven to create a foundation that could help victims in real life. She did so with the Joyful Heart Foundation, whose website notes that its mission statement is to "transform society's response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, support survivors' healing, and end this violence forever." The Joyful Heart Foundation also came about after Hargitay received letters from real-life victims telling her their character had helped them as they recover from their own trauma, so she took her influence and set out to do some good in the world.

Another way that Hargitay has put her money where her mouth is is to speak out about the massive backlogs of untested rape kits in police stations across the country. In an op-ed for CNN in 2018, Hargitay was direct and unequivocal about the fact that these tests need to be run to hold rapists accountable and provide victims with closure. Regarding the sheer numbers and the fact that some rape kits are thrown out to "make room," Hargitay wrote, "That is an outrageous, shameful level of disregard, and the system that makes it possible must change. Just as the backlog is a reflection of how we regard sexual assault and its victims in this country, the individual actions and decisions by law enforcement are the outcome of deeply entrenched societal attitudes that make those actions and decisions possible. Those attitudes must be dismantled."

Olivia's desk has an homage to Mariska Hargitay's mother

You probably know that Mariska Hargitay is the daughter of Hollywood pin-up Jayne Mansfield, who died in a tragic car accident in 1967 at the age of 37. Hargitay was in the back of the car with her siblings and survived the crash, but she manages to find ways to remember her mom all the time — including on "SVU." As recently as 2021, eagle-eyed fans pointed out on Reddit that there's a photo of Mansfield holding Hargitay as a baby on Olivia's desk.

Hargitay's sweet homage to her mother on "SVU" is just one of the ways that she honors Mansfield's memory. In 2018, the actress told People that she's always told she resembles her famous mom, and that comforts her. "Someone once said about [remembering] my mother: 'All you have to do is look in the mirror,'" she said. "She's with me still." She also made sure to honor her mother by making it clear that Mansfield was far more than just a sex symbol, telling the magazine, "My mother was this amazing, beautiful, glamor­ous sex symbol — but people didn't know that she played the violin and had a 160 IQ and had five kids and loved dogs. She was just so ahead of her time. She was an inspiration, she had this appetite for life, and I think I share that with her." In 2023, Hargitay posted an Instagram tribute to Mansfield on what would have been the actress' 90th birthday. 

She's the longest-running character not just on Law & Order, but in television history

Longtime "Law & Order" fans probably feel like they can't imagine the show without Olivia Benson, and that's understandable; she's the emotional core of the series, and if Hargitay ever exits, Dick Wolf and his creative team should probably just pack it in. (Luckily for fans, Hargitay doesn't seem ready to end her run as Olivia just yet.) As of 2019, though, Hargitay — and Olivia — broke a major record.

Not only is Olivia Benson the longest-running character in the history of the "Law & Order" franchise, she's the longest-running character in television history. In 2019, when "SVU" was renewed for Season 21, Deadline reported that Hargitay and Olivia broke the record previously held by Kelsey Grammar's Frasier Crane (from both "Cheers" and "Frasier") and James Arness' Marshal Matt Dillon (from "Gunsmoke"). "Law & Order" shows have been around for so long that they smash records all the time, but the fact that a strong, determined, and fully human female detective who investigates something as important as sexual violence is the longest-running television character in history is a pretty stunning achievement. She's not alone, though; in 2023, Ice-T, who plays Odafin "Fin" Tutuola on "SVU," joined her as the longest-running male character in television history.

Mariska Hargitay's real-life husband appears on Law & Order: SVU

Hargitay's real-life mother's photo might be on Olivia's desk, but the actress' real-life spouse is also a part of "SVU." Peter Hermann, known for projects like "Younger," regularly appears on "SVU" as defense attorney Trevor Langan, known as one of New York's most expensive and talented lawyers who's a senior partner at his high-powered firm. Trevor could be a relatively unimportant character, but one major plotline gave him a lot of face time with Olivia.

Trevor serves as the attorney for a young sex worker who dies, leaving her son Noah behind; after Olivia steps forward to act as Noah's guardian, Trevor assists her, eventually facilitating Noah's adoption. Though the two experience some difficulties that cross both personal and professional boundaries — namely, Trevor says that Noah has no living relatives left, only for Noah's grandmother Sheila (Brooke Shields) to come forward and briefly kidnap Noah — the two are on good terms, and Trevor often helps out victims at the Special Victims Unit by taking on their cases pro bono. Olivia and Trevor even go on a date to a fundraising gala in the Season 23 episode "Video Killed the Radio Star," which is especially funny for fans in the know.

Olivia Benson is the namesake for this megastar's pet cat

It might seem like Olivia Benson and Grammy-winning superstar Taylor Swift have nothing to do with one another, but they're actually incredibly connected — because one of Swift's three cats is named after the character. Alongside Meredith Grey (named after Ellen Pompeo's "Grey's Anatomy" lead) and Benjamin Button (named after the movie and short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald), Olivia Benson is a Scottish fold who probably lives a pretty great life. So how did this come about?

In 2015, Hargitay told Seth Meyers that the two met at the Met Gala, though she didn't specify when; it must have been before Swift really blew up, though, considering that Hargitay said to Meyers, "And she's down there, she's like, 'Hi, I like your show!' And I'm like, 'Oh thanks!' And I didn't know that she was like the second coming, right?" By 2014, the feline version of Olivia Benson joined Swift's little family, and in 2015, Hargitay appeared in the music video for Swift's "1989" single "Bad Blood," which sees Swift attending a sort of spy academy and features a ton of her famous friends in short cameos. Hargitay appears alongside Pompeo; the former's name is "Justice," and the latter's is "Luna." 

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).