Elizabeth Smart inspires women (Video)
Jennifer Lee Preyss
Sept. 12, 2013 at 4:12 a.m.
Elizabeth Smart still remembers the chilling words of her abductor, Brian David Mitchell, hours after he had stolen her from her bedroom in the wee hours of the morning.
On a rural mountainside in Utah, 18 miles from her Salt Lake City home, Mitchell, known then to the 14-year-old Smart as "Emmanuel," uttered the words, "I hereby seal you to me as my wife for God and his angels to witness."
What happened next, Smart recalled Thursday at the Community Center Dome addressing more than 700 women at the DeTar Healthy Women Conference, was the most horrific event of her life.
"I remember he forced me on the ground ... and then he raped me," said Smart, 25, who described herself publicly as an overly modest virgin. "After he was done, he looked down on me and smiled. And then he walked out of the tent."
Smart endured nine months of captivity, rape and emotional and physical turmoil before law enforcement located her and reunited her with family.
"I will never forget how filthy and broken and ruined I felt. ... I thought, how could anyone ever want me again? I was disgusting," she told the audience.
Since then, her captors, Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee, were sentenced to life in prison.
Smart said she has found healing and recovery in a new life. She has established the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and works as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse and other predatory crimes. She also works with radKIDS, which helps train, teach and empower children how to escape or resist violent situations in which their bodies may be harmed.
Smart has also grown into her Mormon faith that comforted her so often while in captivity. She has realized her faith in God can not be shaken - even in the darkest moments of life.
Smart wants women to know that whatever they face, they can overcome it.
"... Although I would never ask to be kidnapped, I can say that I'm grateful for what it has given me because I've been able to go out and meet and speak with and work with so many incredible people that otherwise I never would have been able to meet," she said. "I mean, realistically, I wouldn't be here tonight had I not been kidnapped."
Sitting in the audience, Angie Smith, of Victoria, listened intently to Smart's message.
"What she did took courage. And it is so important for women to talk about sexual abuse. I admire her for what she'd doing," Smith said. She remembers following Smart's abduction on the news 11 years ago. "I'm inspired by her. Everyone should be."
Eleven years after the abduction, which has spurred several books and a made-for-TV-movie, Smart now uses her experience as a child abuse victim to encourage children and women to find their voice and remember it's not their fault.
Smart, who's now married and living in Utah, said she plans to continue her advocacy work until everyone feels a little more comfortable speaking up about sexual abuse.
"I just want women to know they are so powerful and so strong, and nothing is beyond their reach," she said.