Elizabeth Smart started her lecture in Stephens Auditorium on Friday evening stating she hopes everyone walked away knowing three things.
Each individual is special and unique; there are a lot of things that happen in life that are not fair, but it is not that person's fault and it doesn't change a person's worth; and at the end of the day, what happens to a person doesn't define them, it is the decisions and choices one makes that defines them.
Smart was abducted from her home at the age of 14 by a self-proclaimed prophet named Emmanuel (Brian David Mitchell.) Before that day, Smart said she was a shy girl who was happy to be a wallflower, happy to graduate junior high and move on to high school.
She told her story to a full Stephens Auditorium Friday night.
“I alway felt like junior high just had to be cruel and unusual punishment,” Smart said. "It is like the most awkward time of life, at least for me, maybe not for anyone else, but for me it was the most awkward time of life I could ever imagine, and I just remember thinking that if I could make it to high school, all of that would disappear."
She recalled being excited and talking with her friends about what they would wear, what they were going to do that summer, and the high school classes they were going to take.
“Nothing about that day really was any different than any other day,” Smart said. “I mean there was no foreshadowing that was to come."
After going home from her junior high graduation, Smart remembered climbing into the bed she shared with her sister and falling asleep.
The next thing she remembered was a voice.
“Don’t make a sound I have a knife at your neck, get up and come with me,” Smart recalled hearing.
Smart recalled the experience of being pulled out of her bed and her house and eventually out to the mountains.
“I had all those basic safety rules down, but no one ever told me what I should do if someone broke into my house in the middle of the night and held a knife at my neck and told me to get up and go with them,” Smart said.
At one point while Smart and her abductor were walking through the mountains, Smart told Mitchell if he was going to kill her, that he do it there, because she wanted her parents to know it wasn't her choice and she wanted them to find her body.
Once they arrived at the camp in the middle of the woods where Smart was kept for a large portion of her abduction, Smart recalled Mitchell mentioning his wife, Wanda Barzee, and thought if there was a woman there, nothing terrible could happen, because it was a women.
“That thought disappeared as soon as I saw her,” Smart said.
She explained it wasn't the way the woman was dressed that set this woman apart.
“It’s like when you meet a person for the first time, and you just immediately click with that person and you just know that you guys can be best friends, it was like that, except, the exact opposite,” Smart said.
After being brought into the tent and changing into a long gown, the man started talking to her, but she wasn't listening. When she was able to calm down enough to listen, the only thing she heard was she was his wife now and they needed to consummate their marriage.
Smart said she was raised in a bubble and the only time she had been explained what sex was, was by her friend across the street and it was “the most disgusting thing I have ever heard.”
After she was raped, she recalled feeling spiritually destroyed.
Being raised in a religious community, Smart said she was taught no sex before marriage and it would make her less of a person, using analogies like a fence with holes in it or chewed up gum.
“No one explained to me that there’s a difference between rape and consent,” Smart said.
When thinking about the people who were important to her in that moment, at the top was her family. Remembering her parents telling them how much they loved her and what they would sacrifice for her gave her something to hold on to, Smart said.
“My captors, they took away my home, took away my family, they took away my junior high graduation, they'd taken away so much from me already, they could take away my life from me, if they chose,” Smart said. “But they could not ever take away my parents love for me.”
This realization showed Smart she had something to live for and something worth surviving for.
“That’s what got me through nine months of captivity with these two monsters,” Smart said.
On March 12, 2003, Smart and her captors were headed back to Utah after spending the winter in Southern California. Suddenly, they were surrounded by police officers and Smart was rescued.
After she was found, a question she heard over and over again was “why didn't you ever run, and why didn't you ever scream and why didn't you ever escape.”
Smart said the answer to this question holds true for victims “across the board.”
“My captors had been so abusive for so long they seemed invincible,” Smart said. “Why would a police officer believe me over an adult?”
The only way to survive and live another day was to do what they said, Smart said.
Once Smart was reconnected with her family and was brought home, she recalled having a conversation with her mother. During this conversation, Smart’s mother gave her the best piece of advice she had ever been given.
“What these people have done to you is terrible and there are not words to describe how wicked and evil they are … but the best punishment you could ever give them is to be happy, is to move forward with your life” Smart said.
Smart said her mom knew she would have hard times and struggle, but Smart shouldn't stop living her life because of what happened.
Rape is not uncommon and neither is abuse or kidnapping, Smart pointed out.
The thing that set Smart out from the others is it was by a stranger and she felt she could be the person who went on stage and say “I was raped.”
Of the children who are kidnapped, only about 3 percent are abducted by non-family members, and only around 100 are kidnapped each year “in the stereotypical stranger abductions,” according to the Polly Klass Foundation.
A majority of the time, it is by a friend or a family member, “someone within that circle of trust.”
When asked about the recent death of Celia Barquín Arozamena and how the community can move forward, Smart said to not let the conversation die and believe in the “power of the individual.”
“Hopefully change will come from tonight, but when the next big news story hits or the next big drama on campus hits, don't let this fall by the wayside, don’t forget about what’s happened,” Smart said. “Let this conversation go on and be there to empower and support each other. Don't allow sexual violence to occur or turn a blind eye.”
Smart said she would not have been rescued without the three separate individuals that had called the police that day. If you see something, Smart said to just report it. The worst thing that could happen is a little embarrassment if you are wrong.
In relation to safety, Smart said if she doesn't feel comfortable or safe, she leaves and she recommended to reach out to the campus and community resources to help.
Students attending the lecture said her advice on striving to be happy and fighting back when you feel unsafe stood out to them.
Smart’s final piece of advice was to build a support group — to find family and friends that are there to listen, and people who will look at an individual as more than just a survivor.
“Never give up. Never stop living your life the way you want to because of fear of what’s happened to you or fear of what could happen to you. And you need to make sure you live your life the way you want and that happiness is always your end goal and you never give up on it,” Smart said her mother told her after being found.