|Det. Olivia Benson|
|Law & Order character|
Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
|Portrayed by||Mariska Hargitay|
|Time on show||1999–present|
|Credited appearances||319 episodes (SVU)
3 episodes (L&O)
1 episode (TBJ)
323 episodes (total)
Tracy Harrison 
Detective Olivia "Liv" Benson is a fictional character on the NBC police procedural drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, portrayed by Mariska Hargitay. During the first twelve seasons, she is partnered with Elliot Stabler; after his resignation in season 13, she is partnered primarily with Nick Amaro.
Series creator Dick Wolf named his two lead detectives after his son, Elliot, and his daughter, Olivia. Wolf conceived Benson as a detective in the Manhattan Special Victims Unit, which investigates sex crimes. She is partnered with Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni). She is tough, empathetic, and gets emotionally involved in cases. Executive producer and head writer Neal Baer has explained that she is "the empathetic, passionate voice for these victims", in contrast to Stabler, who embodies "the rage we feel, the 'How can this happen?' feeling". Of their partnership, Baer assessed that: "They both represent the feelings that we feel simultaneously when we hear about these cases. That's why they work so well together."
In the episode "Paranoia", Benson described how, despite the difficulty she faced in dealing with a 2-year-old female rape victim on her second case, Karen Smythe, who trained her, praised her for displaying a talent in dealing with victims. Benson herself is a child of her mother's rape. The man who raped her later committed suicide. Benson's mother Serena (Elizabeth Ashley), an English professor, was an abusive alcoholic who emotionally abused Olivia. In the season-two episode "Taken", Serena Benson dies falling down a flight of subway stairs outside the entrance to a bar. In a later episode, "Intoxicated", she mentions being engaged briefly when she was 16 to one of her mother's students; when her mother found out, she broke the bottle of vodka she was drinking, and went after Olivia with the jagged edge of the bottle. Olivia fought back, kicked her mother twice, and then ran out of the house. Benson is a graduate of Siena College. While there, she held a membership in a sorority. In addition to English, Benson speaks Italian, some Spanish and French and is able to read the Miranda warnings in at least two other languages. She owns a black 1965 Ford Mustang convertible, but rarely drives it ("Perverted," season eleven).
Olivia was born on December 13, 1967. She has a younger half brother named Simon Marsden. Simon, whom she found by illegally running her DNA through the system, was thought to be a rapist. However, his name was cleared in the episode "Florida", where it was revealed that he was framed by Captain Julia Millfield (Kim Delaney).
In the season twelve episode "Trophy", Benson's life is further complicated when she is named the legal guardian of a young boy named Calvin Arliss (Charlie Tahan). Calvin's mother, Vivian (Maria Bello) abandons Calvin and flees when Olivia's investigation uncovers that Vivian (also a child of rape) may have killed her mother's rapist. The last thing that Vivian does is name Olivia as Calvin's legal guardian. Calvin lives with Olivia for a while, causing her both delight and stress when Calvin gets into fights at school. In "Rescue" Olivia finds Vivian and her lover Sara have relapsed back into drug use. Sara confesses to murdering Vivian's rapist father and is then shot dead. At the end of the episode, Benson's parental rights are revoked by Vivian who sends Calvin to live with his grandparents. Both Calvin and Olivia are devastated by the separation. In season 13 she is seen with Calvin and his grandparents during or right before Halloween.
In the season thirteen episode "Child's Welfare", Simon (Michael Weston) reveals to Benson that she has a niece and step-nephew named Olivia and Ty, and that he is getting married to a woman named Tracy. When the children are later taken by the city due to Simon's criminal background, Benson calls Defense Attorney Beyard Ellis (Andre Braugher), with whom she has become good friends, to help Simon and Tracy get the children back. When a judge denies the Marsdens their children back, Simon later kidnaps them. Ellis deals to have Simon serve a 60-day sentence, knocking his charge down from kidnapping to a misdemeanor, custodial interference. One of the conditions of the reduced charges is he must give up his custody petition and agree to only visit his daughter in a supervised setting for the next three years. Simon is reluctant but Benson tells him it's better than his daughter visiting him in jail.
Hargitay has characterized Benson and Stabler's relationship as "very complicated". Her assessment is that:
|“||Sometimes it's very much like brother and sister, and I think the reason that they're so close is that they share a passion for their jobs and for the people. They have a mutual respect for one another. I think that the average lifespan of an SVU detective is four years because of the difficulty and stress involved. They've been doing it for longer than that, so they feel like they're in their own world almost. There's also sexual chemistry between them, it's so loaded and layered. People ask me if they'll ever get together — and people want that, and sometimes I think even Olivia wants that — but I don't think that will ever happen.||”|
Baer agrees that a romantic relationship between the two is unlikely, though commented: "You never can say never".
Hargitay has stated that her favorite SVU scene occurs in the season seven episode "Fault", when Benson is faced with the possibility of losing Stabler: "Lou Diamond Phillips [who played a child killer] has a gun to Elliot's head. I'm negotiating [with him to drop the gun]. It was a painful, high-stakes scene. Elliot and I have to admit what we mean to each other... He is everything that [my character] Olivia has. So this was where we really got that to pay off." In an episode where Stabler goes undercover, Benson tries to talk him into coming back, but they are interrupted by Stabler's targets. She rushes to the bathroom, flushes the toilet, and undresses herself as she pretends to be a prostitute. While it did not blow his cover, Stabler was still shot for violating his instructions.
In the show's first season, Benson has a sexual relationship with one of her SVU colleagues, Detective Brian Cassidy (Dean Winters). In the episode "Closure" Benson refers to it as a drunken one night stand. It is implied that it was continued based on comments in the episode "Disrobed". Cassidy leaves the precinct at the end of that episode. In the season five episode "Lowdown" it was revealed Benson had a relationship with a murder victim who turned out to be homosexual and also HIV positive. Medical Examiner Melinda Warner immediately tests Benson and the results come back negative. In the season nine episode "Closet", the SVU squad are surprised to find out that Benson has been in a relationship with journalist Kurt Moss (Bill Pullman) for several months. It comes out only because Internal Affairs are 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, she has, according to lesbian entertainment website AfterEllen.com, "attracted a large lesbian following". Fan speculation exists over alleged sexual tension between Benson and Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March), which Baer admits to indulging: "We read the fan sites. We know that people are into the Alex-Olivia thing. All the codes are in there." On her personal Twitter page, actress Diane Neal acknowledged the sexual tension between her character (ADA Casey Novak) and Detective Benson, after speaking about her real friendship with actress Mariska Hargitay.
In the middle of the thirteenth season, Benson enters into a relationship with a new prosecutor to the district attorney's office, Executive ADA David Haden, portrayed by Harry Connick, Jr., who is also a friend of Hargitay's. "This is a home run on so many levels," said Hargitay. "The show is very fortunate to have Harry's extraordinary talent, and I'm lucky because I get to work with my friend. I think Olivia couldn't have asked for a better companion to take her through a new stage in her life and career." Haden and Benson begin their relationship at the end of the episode, "Official Story". In the episode "Hunting Ground", she decides to take it slow with Haden, claiming she needs time to see if their relationship will last. That night, they end up sleeping together in her apartment. This makes her late for a case, which is frowned upon in the NYPD. In the episode "Justice Denied", Olivia and David end their relationship due to a conflict of interest.
In the Season 14 premiere, Benson shares a kiss with Detective Cassidy after she tells him she is not the same person from 13 years ago, when they had a brief sexual relationship. Later that season, in the episode "Undercover Blue", it is revealed that Cassidy and Benson had been seeing each other for quite some time. Their relationship hits a rough patch in the episode when Cassidy is accused of rape while he was undercover, which results in their relationship becoming public. The charges against Cassidy are later dropped when the SVU detectives discover that he was being set up.
Sexual assault 
In the season nine episode "Undercover", Benson poses as an inmate in a women's prison to investigate an alleged rape by a corrections officer. While there, the corrections officer in question attacks her and attempts to force her to perform oral sex on him. She is rescued by SVU colleague Fin Tutuola (Ice-T), who gets there just in time to stop the rape. Later, Benson helps convict the rapist by questioning his earlier victim about distinguishing features on his penis, prompting the victim to recall a mole on it, which Benson later explains to Warner that she had also seen. When Warner asks Benson if she had been raped, she replies, "It was the closest I've ever come."
In season ten, Benson is seen struggling with now being a victim of sexual assault herself. She is attending group therapy, something she has not shared with anyone but Tutuola. In the episode "PTSD," while investigating the rape of a Marine, she is pushed against a wall while trying to break up a fight between a suspected rapist and another Marine. She subsequently breaks up the fight by holding her gun to the back of the suspect's head. Later, while in questioning, the other Marine tells Tutuola that, "She [Benson] has PTSD, I would recognize that glassy-eyed look anywhere." At the end of the episode, the original suspect is cleared, and Benson apologizes to him, admitting that she was a victim of sexual assault.
In the season eleven episode "Perverted," Benson becomes the prime suspect in the sexual mutilation and murder of a biker gang member. As more evidence is found linking her to the crime, an Internal Affairs detective insinuates that she may have committed it while suffering from a flashback to the assault. The other detectives eventually discover that Benson has been framed by a man she sent to prison years earlier.
Hargitay has deemed the storyline which saw Benson find her paternal family: "probably the biggest thing that's ever happened to Olivia." She feels her character is a role model for teenage girls, revealing:
|“||I get letters saying, 'I want to do the right thing like Olivia. I want to be strong like Olivia. My friend did this, but I didn't do it because of Olivia.' For me, when a television show has that kind of positive effect on young people, it is great. I think it is a good thing that we are shedding light on darkness. I think it is a good thing to make teenage girls aware.||”|
Hargitay has won a number of awards for her role as Benson: 'Individual Achievement for Best Female Lead' and 'Outstanding Female Lead' Gracie Awards in 2004 and 2009 respectively, an Emmy for 'Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series' in 2006, a Prism Award for 'Performance in a Drama Series Episode' in 2006, and a Golden Globe for 'Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series' in 2005. Of her Emmy win, Hargitay commented: "It makes me only want to be better. Now I'm an Emmy winner. I have to step it up."
The San Francisco Chronicle's John Carman has called Hargitay "the show's weakest performer" when the series originally premiered in 1999. In 2006, however, fellow San Francisco Chronicle writer Jean Gonick, deemed Benson a suitable role model for teenage girls, calling her "courageous and strong, and unspeakably gorgeous", and writing that "Olivia Benson is our own special hero. She battles evil, avenges her mother, faces her demons but refuses to date them." In 2001, Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker criticized Benson and Stabler as "the most naive, bleeding heart molester busters in America."
A poll on the Hallmark Channel voted her second-greatest detective in the Law & Order franchise, only being beaten by Law & Order: Criminal Intent's Robert Goren. Benson appeared in Comcast's list of TV's Most Intriguing Characters and also in the website's list of TV's Top Cops. She was included in TV Guide's list of "TV's Sexiest Crime Fighters". AOL TV named her one of TV's Smartest Detectives with partner Stabler. The same website ranked her the 50th Most Memorable Female TV Character. She was ranked No. 16 in AfterEllen.com's Top 50 Favorite Female TV Characters.
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- Gonick, Jean (September 2, 2006). "'Law & Order' could do much for teen abstinence". San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst Corporation. Retrieved 2009-05-12.
- Tucker, Ken (December 10, 2001). "Review - Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999)". Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. Retrieved 2009-05-12.
- "TV's Most Intriguing Characters". Comcast. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
- "TV's Top Cops". Comcast. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
- "TV's Sexiest Crime Fighters". TV Guide. Retrieved June 26, 2012.
- "TV's Smartest Detectives". AOL TV. November 18, 2011. Retrieved February 3, 2013.
- Potts, Kim (March 2, 2011). "100 Most Memorable Female TV Characters". AOL TV. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
- "AfterEllen.com's Top 50 Favorite Female TV Characters". AfterEllen.com. February 27, 2012. Retrieved June 24, 2012.