On June 5, 2002, Elizabeth Smart’s story made national headlines after she was abducted at knifepoint from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah.
At the time of her kidnapping, the then-14-year-old was tragically raped and tied up daily for the next nine months and endured endless amounts of physical and mental abuse. Thankfully she was rescued nearly a year later on March 12, 2003, after two witnesses recognized her abductors Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee. While the details of her kidnapping were splashed across headlines for years after her kidnapping Smart is now revealing that she did not want to talk about the details with her parents.
In a recent interview, Smart revealed that after being kidnapped as a teen, she couldn’t bring herself to share the details of her experience with her parents.
“The truth is I never sat them all down and had a ‘tell all’ experience with them,” Smart wrote on Instagram earlier this week. “Honestly when I got home I didn’t want anyone to know what had happened I was embarrassed and ashamed… I was brought to an advocacy center where I had to disclose much of what happened to two professionals and they, in turn, relayed much of what happened to my parents. But I don’t think my parents ever heard in detail what happened from my own lips until my court appearance almost a decade later.”
“I have so many thoughts and feelings on this topic, first and foremost I never want anyone to compare their experiences to me, we are all different and unique and we can never accurately compare our experiences to someone else’s,” Smart continued in her Instagram post. “I also want to point out my case was highly publicized, everyone already knew crimes were committed against me. So it didn’t take me coming forward and disclosing the extent of my abuse to multiple people before my captors were taken into custody. Nor did I have people doubt me.”
Smart shared in a separate Instagram post on Monday that she decided to reveal the details of the abuse she endured to prevent other victims from feeling shame.
“I’ve noticed a lot of comments about dealing with the shame and embarrassment that I felt after I was rescued and didn’t want to tell anyone the details about what happened,” she wrote. “For years if a discussion or a situation occurred that would seem a natural opener to talking about what happened I generally sidestepped it. In my mind what had happened was something that I hated and never wanted to acknowledge so I just avoided thinking/talking about it.”
“But I remember one day my dad came to me and started discussing the charges Brian Mitchell was going to be charged with, and I felt anger, because of all the charges he was faced with none of them included the worst things he did to me. It was ultimately in that moment that I stopped caring and worrying about the shame and embarrassment that I felt.”
Smart revealed that speaking out about what happened to her ultimately made her feel empowered.
“If someone judged me for what happened, in my mind I came to the conclusion that they did not matter and clearly were not worth my time,” Smart explained. “Since then I became more and more involved in advocacy and as I went out I realized I was not alone in being a victim of rape and sexual abuse. This more than anything made me want to do more, change the culture, speak and share my story if it helped others. In my eyes the first step towards changing the culture of how we treat victims and survivors is to start by believing them!”
Since her kidnapping, Smart has become a mother of three and created a campaign for her Elizabeth Smart Foundation called #WeBelieveYou. The campaign works to encourage people to believe victims of sexual violence.
“For these and many other reasons I want Victim’s to know that #Ibelieveyou and I hope that as all of us move forward when we come across Victim’s and survivors our first reaction is to believe them!” she wrote on Instagram. “Should we have friends or family disclose to us just listen, they don’t owe us answers to our questions or curiosities. Love them, support them, and be their friend.”
Seventeen years after her rescue, Smart continues to express her thanks for those who helped find her.
“For my seventh day posting about gratitude I feel I can not go without saying thank you to every person who searched for me, prayed for me, followed my story, and did everything they could to bring me home safely!” she wrote on Instagram Sunday. “I shudder to think what my life would be like if it weren’t for good everyday people! Would I still be with my captors? Would I even be alive? How could I survive so long if I were still with them? All terrifying thoughts that I will be so eternally grateful that I never had to find out… My life is absolutely different than I ever imagined it to be, even from the day after I got home when this photo was taken my life is still drastically different than I imagined it to be. However I also know I wouldn’t be where I am today without everything that happened and so for that too I am grateful! During this season of holidays and giving I wish you all the joy, peace, and happiness each one of us deserves! God bless you all!!”
Smart’s kidnapper Brian David Mitchell is currently serving a life sentence. His wife Wanda Barzee was released from a Utah prison in 2018.
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