Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City and held in captivity for nine months in 2002 at age 14, spoke out about her experience at a human trafficking panel at Johns Hopkins University last week. Her main focus: educating children and giving them the skills to fight back.
"We can't start young enough at helping to educate children, at helping to prepare them, because as much as we would like to be there all the time for them, we won't," she said.
Smart, who was sexually assaulted by her captors, pointed to her Christian roots when explaining one of the reasons she didn't attempt escape.
"I was raised in a very religious household — one that taught that sex was something special that only happened between a husband and wife who love each other. And that's what I had been raised, that's what I had been determined to follow. When I got married, then and only then would I engage in sex. So for that first rape, I felt crushed. Who could want me now? I felt so dirty and so filthy. I understand so easily all to well why someone wouldn't run because of that alone."
If you can imagine the most special thing being taken away from you and feeling that — not that that was your only value in life, but something that devalued you — can you imagine turning around and going back into a society where you're no longer of value, where you're no longer as good as everybody else?"
Smart explained some of the tactics used in her religious abstinence education ended up being harmful, saying that we should educate children as young as possible so they are given the tools to fight back.
"If I had been taught more, I think perhaps I would have been better prepared," Smart said. "I think the younger we can educate children, the better it is."
She recounted her own experience in abstinence education.
I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about, well about abstinence. And she said, 'Imagine that you're a stick of gum, and when you engage in sex, that's like getting chewed. And then if you do that lots of times, you're going to become an old piece of gum, and who's going to want you after that?'
… for me, I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I'm that chewed up piece of gum. Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away.'
And that's how [easy] it is to feel like you no longer have worth; you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth scraping up? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life no longer has value.
Watch the full speech here.
Video via Fox 13 News Salt Lake City