Det. Olivia "Liv" Benson is a fictional character on the NBC police procedural drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, portrayed by Mariska Hargitay. She is the partner of Elliot Stabler.
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. 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 7-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. Her mother Serena (Elizabeth Ashley), an English professor, was an abusive alcoholic. In the season two episode "Taken", Benson's mother 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. Benson is a graduate of 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 read the Miranda warnings in three other languages. She also 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 is revealed he was framed by Captain Julia Millfield (Kim Delaney).