Fifteen years ago, her kidnapping became one of the most followed child abduction cases. Her name became known around the world – Elizabeth Smart.
Smart was taken and held captive for months before finally being rescued. Since then, she has worked hard to become an author and activist against kidnapping, violence and abuse.
On Wednesday, she delivered the keynote address at Idaho State University as part of its “Surviving Voices” campaign to promote awareness, and action, against violence against women.
At 14 years old, Smart was kidnapped from her own bedroom in Utah. She was held captive, raped, and tortured both mentally and physically for nine months before finally being rescued. Now she makes it her mission to advocate for others and help other victims of sexual violence or assault.
“Sexual assault and rape in particular – it is a crime that in many regards, is worse than murder because you keep living and you keep feeling those feelings,” Smart said.
Smart said those feelings have no “one size fits all” cure for coping. Each person must learn what works for them to survive. But she said surviving is what is important. That’s why she does what she does – that’s why she tells her story time and again, and has done for several years.
“Whenever I speak and I look out at the audience, I know I’m not the only one in the room who’s been raped,” Smart said. “I know I’m not the only one who’s been abused. And I want them to know that they’re not alone, I want them to know that they are not responsible for what happened. They shouldn’t feel guilt or shame and I want them to know that there is still hope. There is always hope. You can move on and this terrible thing that has happened, it doesn’t have to define you. It may shape you, it may mold you, but ultimately you define who you are.”
Smart said many victims she’s met over the years never came forward because of fear of rejection, hurting loved ones, or not being believed. That’s why she feels it’s important to talk about the subject and educate people, even kids who may not know better. She said there are age-appropriate ways to talk about it with your child so they understand should the situation ever come into play in their lives.
“I always talk about the three things I think are most important for any parent to share with their kid,” Smart stated. “First, they are loved unconditionally and make sure they understand what unconditionally means. Second of all, is that no one has the right to hurt you or threaten you or scare you in any way, and it doesn’t matter who it is. And thirdly, if someone does hurt you, if someone does scare you, then they need to tell you and they need to know that you have their back, that you will believe them.”
Smart said she feels all of the recent sexual assault allegations coming to light are a good thing. She said it shows the willingness for more people to come together and share their stories. It’s bringing the topic to a much-needed discussion.
TIME magazine’s selection for person of the year is “The Silence Breakers,” in honor of the #MeToo campaign and all those who voices who spoke out against sexual assault and violence. When asked what she thought of that, Smart said, that’s good.
“I think it’s great,” Smart answered. “I think the #MeToo movement has been huge. I think it’s great, I think now more than ever survivors are starting to feel more of a camaraderie and feeling that maybe they can’t put their face to what’s happened yet, but they’re able to have an outlet for it in some form which I think, is very empowering. So I think it’s huge. I think we’re seeing some real progress in an area that hasn’t seen progress in a long time.”
A new movie about Smart premiered in November of this year in honor of the 15th anniversary. Smart said when she was first approached about movies and documentaries, she didn’t want to do it. She worried about the accuracy – both in being wrong or in being too accurate, it’d be hard to relay. But she said the more she thought about it, the more she realized it was just one more way she could help others truly understand what victims go through.
Smart also spoke in the address about forgiveness and its importance. She said he has no desire to ever see her captors again, and she knows it has no effect on them at all whether or not she forgives them or stays angry. But it does affect her, so she chose forgiveness and moving on.
After speaking at ISU, Smart also held a Q & A session with the audience and signed copies of her book.