Elizabeth Smart told of how thrilled she was to be rescued from her abductors, but also gave the Button Ball audience details of the first two horrific days of her kidnapping. // Photo by John McBryde
By JOHN McBRYDE
Elizabeth Smart considers herself to be the luckiest girl in the world.
Even after she was abducted as a 14-year-old in June 2002 and horribly mistreated and sexually abused for nine months by her captors, Smart can look back on the nightmare and realize how it has shaped her current role as a children’s advocate.
“I will never ever forget the day I was rescued,” Smart, 31, told a sold-out crowd at Saturday’s Davis House Child Advocacy Center’s Button Ball, where she was guest speaker. “It had been the longest, hardest nine months of my life. There were so many times that I felt like I couldn’t go on. There were so many times I felt like I should just give up now.”
The abduction of Smart by Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, is considered one of the most followed child-kidnapping cases. Smart’s captors, who expressed religious motives for kidnapping and keeping her, controlled her by threatening to kill her and her family if she tried to escape.
She was rescued by authorities on March 12, 2003, on a street in Sandy, Utah.
“I remember going home that night and feeling like a princess,” Smart told the Button Ball crowd, the largest ever for the Davis House’s biggest fundraiser of the year. “We came to this beautiful house that had carpet and running water and a whole closet to myself full of clothes. … I just remember feeling so excited, so happy to be home. I felt like I had been given this second chance of life, that everything that had been taken away from me had all of a sudden been given back.
“One of the things that I have learned over and over and over again is that I really am the luckiest girl in the world, because the only thing that sets my story apart from thousands of other victims — not just of kidnapping but of sexual abuse or human trafficking — is that what happened to me came from a stranger. Most abuse, most kidnappings, most sexual abuse comes from people that you know, people that you trust, people that have access to you all the time.
“Every child deserves to have the happy ending that I’ve had. Every child deserves to come home and feel like a princess or a prince and have luxuries of running water and carpet and a bed and a closet full of clothes and not having to worry about where they’re going to sleep next or when to get a drink.
Smart’s experience led her to become an advocate for change related to child abduction, recovery programs and national legislation.
Author of the bestselling book My Story, Smart is the founder of the “Elizabeth Smart Foundation.” She has also helped promote the National AMBER Alert, The Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act and other safety legislation to help prevent abductions.
Before the program began Saturday night, Smart said she wanted her speech to give attendees an idea of what victims endure.
“I hope that the audience develops a greater understanding and compassion and empathy for what victims really do go through and why from the outside it’s not always clear why victims act the way they do, why they maybe don’t immediately speak up, why they don’t immediately find a way,” she said. “I hope to give them a glimpse of what it’s like to be in their shoes but also to show why organizations like the Davis House are so important, so essential.
“Most abuse that takes place, most kidnappings that take place, most sexual violence that takes place come from people the victims are familiar with and happen in a familiar place. That’s pretty devastating. So to have an organization like the Davis House is so important because to move forward, you need to have that support and you need to have that foundation in your life, and that’s what they’ve become for many, many victims.”
The mission of Davis House Child Advocacy Center is to combat child abuse by coordinating services to children and their families in crisis and providing community education focused on child abuse prevention and early intervention.
Davis House accomplishes this by providing investigative and healing services in response to allegations of sexual and severe physical abuse in the four-county services area of Williamson, Hickman, Lewis and Perry counties, as well as training adults in the community how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child abuse.