For Mariska Hargitay, playing Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU is more than just a job, it's a calling.

"Every day I get on my knees and thank God for this opportunity. It's not lost on me that God gave me this opportunity, this platform to speak about these issues. I really feel like it was a calling, it's not an accident I came on this show," Hargitay told E! News at The Joyful Heart Foundation gala. "I always wanted to be on service, but it's hard. You say, ‘What do I do? How do I be of service?' and this was an opportunity."

Mariska Hargitay

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Joyful Heart Foundation

Hargitay said she was unaware of the sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse statistics until she started on SVU and she wondered why more people weren't talking about the "epidemic in our country." And then SVU became a platform and a venue to encourage dialogue, to shed light on issues often swept under the rug for a variety of reasons. Hargitay started The Joyful Heart Foundation because of what she learned from her time playing Benson.

"The Joyful Heart Foundation is about the possibility, it's about joy, it's about reclaiming your life," she said.

Law & Order: SVU will return for a season 19 on NBC, making it the longest-running drama currently on air.

"It's been a gift from God," Hargitay told us about the renewal. "I think it's supposed to be that way. I think the show has turned into something else. I think the show provides hope and joy and justice and fairness and a new way to see these issues."

Click play on the video up top to hear more from the Emmy winner. Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesdays, 9 p.m. on NBC.

(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)

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