Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart has shared her advice for how children can protect themselves.
The 36-year-old activist discussed the importance of children’s safety during an interview with Fox News, published on 28 January. In 2003, Smart was found alive after being kidnapped from her home at age 14 by street preacher Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. Since her rescue, she has been an advocate for kidnapping survivors and has spoken openly about her abduction.
Speaking to the outlet, the commentator said that she wants to help young children feel ready when faced with danger, noting that she’s kept that in mind during her classes for The Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which has a mission to “end the victimisation and exploitation of sexual assault through education, healing, and advocacy,” according to the organisation’s official website.
She then shared one safety tip that is taught to children in the self-defence class and how she encourages it. “One of the first things that we have our class attendees do is yell because that’s one of the most powerful tools you have – to just scream,” she said. “Very rarely do we have someone just scream at the top of their lungs and not feel embarrassed.”
Smart went on to note that usually, students find amusement in the shouting that’s done in the classroom. However, she acknowledged this is a perspective that people should have about screaming, especially in cases where they’re in danger.
"Usually, there’s some embarrassed laughter or embarrassed smiles at first, and maybe the loudest person is screaming at 50 per cent volume. And if we can’t really scream in a safe environment without feeling silly or embarrassed, we’re probably not going to be able to call on that when we actually need it,” she said. “So, don’t be afraid to practise screaming.”
During the interview, she specified that she’s been warning her own children about the physical and online dangers in the world, which she said has been “one of the most stressful parts of [her] life right now”. She also shared that it wasn’t initially easy to talk to her three children – Chloe, eight, James, five, and Olivia, four – who she shares with husband Matthew Glimour, about her kidnapping.
“When my oldest was three years old, she started asking me questions,” she explained. “‘What happened to you? How did you get hurt?’ They were questions that I was not prepared to answer. I thought I still had years to talk about it. It did force me to have some pretty hard conversations.”
According to Smart, when she discusses the abduction with her children now, they’re not necessarily as interested, as she noted that she feels like “they just roll their eyes at” her when she talks about the topic. However, she acknowledged that they’re still aware that they’re ultimately having these conversations for the sake of their own safety.
“I’m like: ‘Do you understand why we’re talking about this?’ And they respond: ‘Yes, you don’t want us to get hurt. Yes, you don’t want this bad thing to happen to us. Yes, we know.’ But it’s so important,’” she continued.
In 2002, Smart was held by her captor Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee for nine months, after being kidnapped at knifepoint from her home in Salt Lake City. She was eventually rescued by police on a street in Utah, and the case has been widely reported as well as becoming the subject of numerous films and books.
Sixteen years after the kidnapping, Barzee was freed from prison, after having served concurrent sentences stemming from federal and state convictions. In 2009, she pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of kidnapping and one count of enticement of a minor. She was sentenced to 180 months in prison and 60 months of supervised release.
In 2010, Barzee pleaded guilty to a single count of aggravated kidnapping in Utah, a second-degree felony. These charges were related to a plot to kidnap one of Smart’s cousins shortly after the initial abduction. A judge sentenced her to 15 years for that crime, which is the maximum the state of Utah allows for that class of felony. Meanwhile, Mitchell is serving a life sentence for his convictions.
During her interview with Fox News, Smart also spoke openly about her abduction, sharing that she felt “very alone” when she was rescued. She also spoke candidly about being a victim of sexual assault, as she testified in 2009 that she was drugged, raped, and starved when she was kidnapped.
“I didn’t know of anyone who had been through something similar … like kidnapping,” she said. “Sexual assault and exploitation — they were not commonly spoken about, at least I don’t remember them being commonly spoken about. So, initially, I wanted to just hide everything from everyone.”
Smart acknowledged that she didn’t initially want to talk to others about what she’d been through, due to her feelings of “shame and embarrassment,” even though she knew that what happened to her “wasn’t [her] fault”. However, she said that over time, she formed more connections with people she could relate to, some of who were also survivors of sexual assault.
“But as I moved on with my life, I began to meet more and more survivors. And they began to share their stories of what had happened,” she said. “I began to realise that what happened to me was not so one in a million.”
Rape Crisis offers support for those affected by rape and sexual abuse. You can call them on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, and 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland, or visit their website at www.rapecrisis.org.uk. If you are in the US, you can call Rainn on 800-656-HOPE (4673)