Elizabeth Smart stood in front of the Child Sexual Abuse Conference Tuesday not as a distraught woman affected by child sexual abuse but as an enthusiastic activist on the forefront of the cause.
Smart, who was abducted from her home in Salt Lake City when she was 14 and raped several times over a nine-month period, said she got through it because of her family’s love.
The 24-year-old said she uses that advice today through her advocacy in child sexual abuse programs such as radKIDS.
According to the organization’s website, radKIDS “has been committed to providing education that enhances the ability of children and parents to utilize knowledge, skills and power to protect themselves from violence and harm.”
The organization promotes three principles, Smart said. First, no one has the right to hurt a child because children are special. Second, because children are special, she said, a child does not have the right to hurt anyone unless they are causing harm. Lastly, Smart said the organization teaches children that they can speak out about their experiences because abuse is not their fault.
Over a quarter million children have been through the radKIDS program, she said, and nearly 100 of them have been able to escape a potential assault.
The night Smart’s abduction occurred, she said her last conversation before bed was a dispute with her older brother.
“The next voice I heard couldn’t have been more different,” Smart said.
She said she felt a knife against her neck as a man hovered over her and commanded her to follow him, 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 soon 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 was given the best advice she could have possibly received from her mother — that the best way to punish her captors would be to follow her dreams and be happy.
Her captor is currently serving a lifetime sentence in prison.
Now, she is the president of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which is partners with radKIDS and was created last year by Smart and her father to help promote advocacy and hope to stop victimization.
Smart said she believes that something terrible can be turned into something wonderful.
“The only thing greater than fear is hope,” she quoted from the recent movie “The Hunger Games.”
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