Detective Olivia Benson
is a fictional character
on the TV drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
, portrayed by Mariska Hargitay
Benson works as a detective in the Manhattan Special Victims Unit, which investigates sex crimes and abuse. As played by Hargitay (who has received a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for her portrayal), she is tough, empathetic, and completely dedicated to her job, to the point that she has no personal life of which to speak.
This dedication, however, sometimes wreaks havoc on her emotional state: She empathizes with victims of sexual assault so much that, when an abuser evades justice or a victim suffers, she holds herself personally responsible. She has also occasionally lets her compassion for victims of abuse cloud her professional judgment, an example being a case in the series premiere, "Payback," in which she fights her boss, Capt. Don Cragen (Dann Florek), to get leniency for a woman who killed her rapist. Also, when investigating a case, she sometimes lacks the ability to be impartial, as evidenced in the Season 6 episode "Doubt." In the episode "Inconceivable" her desire for a child of her own is displayed, and also her disappointment and pain at being turned down by the adoption agency.
In the April 15, 2008 episode "Undercover," Benson goes undercover in Sealview Prison to find a corrections officer who is raping the inmates. She herself is nearly raped in the prison's basement by the same officer.
She graduated from Siena College.While there, she held a membership in a sorority.
In addition to English, Benson speaks some Spanish and French and is able to Mirandize in four others. .
Benson's empathy for victims has roots in her personal life; she was a child of her mother's rape. Her mother, Serena (Elizabeth Ashley
), was an abusive alcoholic
. In "Taken
," Benson's mother died in a drunken stupor falling down a flight of subway stairs outside the entrance to "The Velvet Room," a bar, before they could make peace, a source of great emotional pain to her. Conceived when her biological father raped her mother in 1967, she often worries that she inherited his genetic predisposition to violence and aggression. In a later episode, "Intoxicated
," she mentions being engaged briefly when she was 16 to a 21-year-old student of her mother's.
She has a close friendship with her partner, Det. Elliot Stabler
). Both Hargitay and Meloni have said that a romantic link between their characters would be detrimental to the core qualities of the show. Benson and Stabler's relationship is not without friction, however, as they frequently take different stances on cases they investigate; Benson is quicker to take the victim's side than Stabler is, and they periodically have intense arguments about how best to close cases.
In the season nine episode "Paternity," Stabler's pregnant wife, Kathy, is injured in a car accident while Benson drives Kathy to her doctor appointment. Both women are injured and Kathy goes into labor, but Olivia saves both Kathy and the baby.
Affair with Brian Cassidy
In the show's first season, Olivia has a brief affair with one of her SVU colleagues, Det. Brian Cassidy
). It is implied that she ends it in the episode "Disrobed
" when he gets too close. Cassidy leaves the precinct at the end of the episode.
In the season nine episode "Closet," the SVU squad is surprised to find out that she had been in a relationship with journalist Kurt Moss (played by Bill Pullman
). They had been going out for three or four months. It only came out because Internal Affairs
was investigating Benson and Stabler in a case in which the department accidentally outed
a professional football player. By the end of the episode she breaks up with Moss.
While Benson has only been portrayed in relationships with men, executive producer and head writer Neal Baer has said that there was an unaddressed sexual tension between Benson and the then assistant district attorney Alexandra Cabot.
Uses of deadly force
On two separate occasions (Season 1's "Disrobed" and Season 3's "Wrath") Benson is forced to kill a suspect. She is especially haunted by the second incident, in which a man she had helped imprison on what later turned out to be faulty evidence started killing abuse victims she had once worked with, saying he was "ending their pain." She feels partly responsible for his crimes and is stricken with guilt over his death, even though she killed him in self-defense
. She is especially upset by the fact that the gun the suspect was holding was not loaded and that he wanted her to shoot him. She shot him after he told her that the gun was not loaded, but she had no choice; he still was holding a hostage and pulled the trigger while the gun was at a hostage's head.
In the episode "_Special_Victims_Unit_%28season_7%29#Fault_.284.2F4.2F06.29
", Benson suffers a slash wound to the throat while pursuing a child rapist, but the cut is superficial
. However, since she and Stabler have begun to falter in their police work (because neither is willing to risk the other's life in order to catch the killer), Benson asks for a new partner. Benson briefly transfers into the computer crimes unit, but the first two cases she works on involved SVU. In the episode "Web
," Benson returns to SVU as Stabler's partner.
In the 2006 season premiere episode "Infiltrated," Benson takes a leave of absence from SVU to work with the FBI and successfully infiltrates an eco-terrorist group. While working for the FBI, she assumes the identity of Persephone Freed-James, taken from the girlfriend of an eco-terrorist. Several episodes later, SVU tries to get in touch with her so that she can testify in a rape trial. Near the end of the episode, her time with the FBI comes to an end and she returns to SVU. However, when she comes back to SVU headquarters, she finds that her replacement, Dani Beck (Connie Nielsen), looks overly friendly with Stabler. She then tells Cragen that she is not ready to return and requests that her visit to Cragen not be mentioned to Stabler.
She soon returns as Stabler's "handler
." After Beck leaves SVU, Stabler finds himself in an altercation with a nearly mute homeless
man while investigating a case. Together, Benson and Stabler get the information needed. As the story continues, they both comment on how the other has changed since their original partnership. In the end, the case leads to a perpetrator donating a lobe of his liver
to his estranged wife. When Benson and Stabler realize they are the same blood type
, they agree that they would give the other a kidney
if it were needed.
In the Season 9 episode "Undercover", Olivia goes undercover in a women's prison where one of the corrections officers is suspected of raping women in the facility. She is taken to a basement room in the prison and is almost raped. Detective Tutuola, who had been undercover in the prison to protect Olivia and assist in her investigation, comes to her aid just as the officer is about to force Olivia to perform oral sex on him. Olivia has not told Elliot about the incident yet, which is speculated to cause significant tension in their relationship in the upcoming tenth season. "Undercover" was the first episode shown after the writer's strike.
In the season 10 premiere, "Trials," Olivia is dealing with the aftermath of her sexual assault. She reveals that she cannot sleep and has cancelled several dates. She is also having flashbacks of the attack. Her storyline neatly coincides with that of Caitlyn Ryan, a rape victim from a previous case who is also dealing with PTSD/rape trauma syndrome. At the end of the episode, Olivia is seen talking to a therapist about the assault.
Finding her family
In the episode "Haystack," Benson learns that kinship analysis
may help her learn more about her past. She has her blood tested and, at the end of the episode, discovers that she has a brother, named Simon Marsden. In the episode "Florida" she visits the wife of her biological father (Joe Marsden). The wife, however, has Alzheimer's and manages to tell her that Joe left a house to her half-brother Simon before forgetting who Olivia is. At the coroner's office, she finds out that he died about 10 years ago due to pills mixed with alcohol; the death was ruled a suicide. The drinks and pills were found with Joe at his office in ARB Food Distributors. After talking to his coworker, Olivia finds out that he was depressed and had been prescribed medication by a psychologist. He also began drinking around that time. One day, when intoxicated, he crashed the car when Simon (his son) was in it, causing his wife to leave him. The coworker also tells Olivia that they did some work at Columbia University (where Olivia's mother worked at the dining hall). Olivia examined her mother's rape report to look for similar attacks around the same time (1967) and found another in which the victim also worked at a college dining hall. Dr. Huang postulated that the depression caused him to rape women to make them feel as bad as he did. He also suggested that the medication he was taking may have killed his sex drive and when they wore off he started drinking. Apparently Olivia's father also kept track of her throughout her life which leads her to believe that her mother made up the rape because she doesn't believe a rapist would track the child whom he fathered through rape. When she visits the house of one of the other victims and shows her a picture of Joe Marsden, the victim says that he was her rapist as well. In addition, Simon Marsden is a suspect in several incidents of stalking
. Olivia's interference in that case (which also compromises the case she is working on in Manhattan) leads to Cragen's ordering an independent psychological assessment to determine her fitness to remain at SVU.
During the episode "Florida," Benson is caught by Agent Dean Porter, her handler while undercover, for sending money to her brother while on the run. Faced with the facts, she tells him the truth and cooperates in re-capturing her brother in return for not being arrested and charged. It is later revealed that Captain Julia Milfield, the detective who had worked her brother's case in "Philadelphia," had framed Simon for the rape because she believed he had raped her sister when they were in high school.
In fact, Milfield's sister was reacting to being kissed by Simon as a flashback to when her father would molest her. Between Milfield's own denial of the truth, as she herself was not molested, and her sister's later drug abuse, alcoholism, and death, she loses her own objectivity. This nearly gets both Benson and her brother killed; Millfield rents the same model car Simon owns (in an attempt to frame him) and almost runs Benson down with the vehicle. After Millfield's sister overdoses on heroin, she tries to kill Simon with her own service weapon.
After the trial of Darius Parker ends in the season 8 ender episode "Screwed", Benson decided to tell Internal Affairs Bureau the truth about her actions while Simon Marsden was on the run, even though she realizes that it may end her career. Simon had urged her to tell IAB that he forced her to lend him the money, but she believed it would be best to tell the truth. Benson was suspended for several weeks for her actions, returning on the season premiere of season 9.
Behind the scenes
Series creator Dick Wolf
has a daughter named Olivia and a son named Elliot, for whom he named the two lead detectives in the series.