The second day of the Penn State Child Sexual Abuse Conference convened again at the Penn Stater Tuesday and brought a new face to the crowd.
At the age of 14, Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah and raped several times over a nine-month period.
But what got her through those nine months, she said, was the hope and realization that her family would still love her.
The night the incident occurred, her last conversation before bed was one with her older brother – who had found out of her vacation with a best friend to Beaver, Utah. He had mocked her, Smart said, and accused her of having nothing to do while being there.
“The next voice I heard couldn’t have been more different from that of my older brother,” she said.
A strange voice, which spoke of having a knife against her neck, hovered over her and was forcing her to come with him. It wasn’t until the second time he repeated those words that she felt the blade against her neck, she said.
After being forced to climb the mountains across from Smart’s house to the other side, she was brought into a tent and asked to remove her clothes by a woman with long drape-like garments on.
She remembered thinking that the reason they had kidnapped her was because perhaps they couldn’t have kids on their own.
Smart said she learned that the man’s name was Immanuel and soon after she found herself on the floor of a tent feeling worthless, disgusting and filthy – her robe was thrown beside her.
Nine months later, Smart and her captors were back in Salt Lake City walking down a main road when police cars surrounded the three of them. She was pulled off to the side, she said, and they asked her if she was Elizabeth Smart.
Despite being told that if she were to ever release her name to anyone, there would be severe consequences, she told them who she was and put in the back of the police car and soon reunited with her father.
“This was the day my life started over,” she said.
The following day, Smart said she received the best advice she could have possibly encountered from her mother — that the best way to punish her captors would be to follow her dreams and be happy.
Smart uses that advice today through her advocacy in child sexual abuse programs such as radKIDS.
The organization promotes three principles, Smart said. The first being no one has the right to hurt a child because they are special. And because you are special, she said, a child does not have the right to hurt anyone unless they causing harm. Lastly, Smart said that the organization teaches children that they can speak out about their experience because it is not their fault.
Over a quarter of a million children have been through the radKIDS program, she said, and nearly 100 of them have been able to escape a potential assault.
Smart said she believes that together they can turn something terrible into something wonderful.
“The only thing greater than fear is hope,” she quoted from the recent movie the Hunger Games.