Dr. Ann Burgess, 87, Is the Real-Life Olivia Benson. This Is Her Story.


Another myth was that it was always the victim’s fault—something she did, something she said, something she was wearing…which is all wrong. It’s always in the offender. We don’t realize how clever the offenders are, how they’re surveilling their victim, how they target their victim, what makes somebody vulnerable. From a crime standpoint, that gives you something to try to be very aware and avoid certain kinds of situations.

Mariska Hargitay, who plays Olivia Benson on SVU, spoke recently about changing the way we talk about sexual assault survivors. They need to be celebrated the same way a cancer survivor is. Would you agree?

Right, and even just looking at the language is important. Were they a patient, were they a victim? The whole language of survivor comes in to say that they have moved on, so to speak. But I think that Mariska’s work in media has helped immensely to get the story out. I try to do it in terms of lecturing, in terms of teaching, and any way that we can, we’ve got to get it out.

Episode two of the docuseries focuses on serial killers from the ‘70s and ’80s and the frequent kidnappings in the ‘80s and ’90s. As a child of those decades, growing up I used to be terrified walking home after school because I knew these predators were out there. Now, you don’t hear as much about serial killers or kidnappers like we did growing up. Why is that?

I’d agree with you. I don’t hear as much on kidnapping, though we’re not hearing all the cases that are going on. But it was so impressive how aware you were of that as a youngster, so you could take some kind of action [if anything happened]. We say you’ve got to have your antenna up when you’re outside. Doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen to you inside, but I remember one offender saying, “Why did you open the door? I knocked on three doors before I got to yours. You’re the only one to open the door and didn’t your father ever tell you not to open your door to strangers?” That kind of a quick scenario is so traumatic for the victim because she feels like, “Oh my gosh, did I cause it?” Well, she opened the door, but it doesn’t matter. She was expecting people, and yet he’s able to traumatize her in a way. She’ll hear that in her head months afterwards.

As a result, we have to get that information out there in terms of how to deal with trauma symptoms so that they don’t cripple someone.

How have you not crippled from fear and the intensity of what you do? If my mother were doing this for a living, I might have moved out of the house out of fear someone was going to come after her.

I did have a situation when my youngest daughter came home and nobody could find her. We called the police, and then an hour later, she came sauntering up the road. She had gone home with a classmate, but it was terrifying…everything flashes in your head.



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