APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – Turning trauma into hope.
That’s exactly what Elizabeth Smart said she aims to do every time she shares the well-documented story of her abduction from her bedroom at her family’s home in Utah back in 2002.
Smart was at the Hilton Appleton Paper Valley Hotel on Monday night to share that story with a group of local educators.
Back in 2002, deranged street preacher Brian David Mitchell abducted Smart at knifepoint in the dead of night from her bedroom at her parent’s home. He took her into the mountains where he declared that they were now married and raped her daily. Smart was 14 years old at the time.
Mitchell and his wife Wanda Eileen Barzee ensured that Smart couldn’t escape by mentally and emotionally manipulating her, chaining her up, starving her, and forcing her to take drugs and drink alcohol.
They would dress Smart in a veil and robes when they left the mountains and went out in public. Smart recalled one instance when they went to the public library in Salt Lake City and a police detective questioned them about what they were wearing. She said Mitchell talked his way out of the situation by saying she couldn’t remove the veil or robe because it was against his religion for women to show their faces in public.
Police eventually rescued her after nine months when bystanders called the police after noticing something seemed off with Mitchell, Barzee, and Smart when they saw them in public.
These days, Smart travels around the country to share her story. She said she hopes her resilience in the face of sheer evil can inspire others
“I had met so many other survivors and stories about what they had been through and I thought why not me why can’t I be the one to talk about what happened to me,” said Smart. “Don’t give up. You (survivors of sexual assault) deserve to be happy, you deserve to be loved, you deserve a wonderful life.”
On Monday night, most of the people in the audience were educators. Smart said that this is an important group to hear her story.
“They quite literally are on the front lines, they see so much, they see the children that might fall through the cracks that nobody else would notice,” said Smart. “They are the ones who will report it and call it in and be there to support the children.”
According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, there are 165 missing people in Wisconsin right now.
Smart said in her case it took just a couple of people seeing something out of the ordinary and reporting it to bring her home.
“Pay attention, keep your eyes open if you see something that doesn’t seem quite right, call the police,” said Smart. “Unfortunately, what happened to me isn’t uncommon. There’s so many elements of my story that are so similar and so common to far too many other people’s stories.”
Smart was also instrumental in advocating for the National Amber Alert and the Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act which strengthens restrictions for registered sex offenders.
She also is the founder of the ‘Elizabeth Smart Foundation’ which according to its website aims to “bring hope and end the victimization and exploitation of sexual assault through education, healing, and advocacy. Our vision is to vanquish sexual assault and exploitation in all its forms.”
Smart said that her mother told her that the best way she could “get back” at her captors was by living a happy life. She said she tries to see the positives in life and that a big part of her message is showing people who have been through traumatic experiences that happiness is still achievable.
“Happiness is real,” said Smart. “Sometimes you have to chase it and it’s really hard but it is worth it. Don’t give up, you’re not alone. There’s always hope.”