Education

Elizabeth Smart shares message of empowerment during Iowa State visit

Elizabeth Smart speaks about empowerment for sexual abuse survivors and becoming a victor from abuse during a lecture Friday at Iowa State University in Ames. (Lyn Keren/Ames Tribune)
Elizabeth Smart speaks about empowerment for sexual abuse survivors and becoming a victor from abuse during a lecture Friday at Iowa State University in Ames. (Lyn Keren/Ames Tribune)

AMES — Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted when she was 14, shared her journey from victim to empowered victor during a lecture Friday at Stephens Auditorium on the Iowa State University campus.

Smart began her story of empowerment by telling the audience three things she wanted them to remember from the night.

“Each one of us is born special, and each one of us is born unique,” she said.

“There is, unfortunately, a lot of things that happen in life that aren’t fair,” Smart continued. “It’s not our fault, it may the consequences of someone’s actions, but that doesn’t change your worth.”

Smart ended her first remarks with a smile that sparked smiles in the audience.

“At the end of the day, no matter what you’ve gone through, no matter what it seems the world knows you for, it doesn’t define you,” she said. “What you do next is what truly defines you.”

On the night of June 5, 2002, Smart was abducted from her home in Salt Lake City and spent nine months in captivity. Her abusers tortured her and raped her. They were convicted of abducting Smart, with the husband serving a life sentence in prison, while the wife recently was released.

Smart recently published her second book, “Where There’s Hope: Healing, Moving Forward, and Never Giving Up.”

She said that when she was raped for the first time, she felt a loss of hope. She hurt physically, but she also hurt emotionally, mentally and especially spiritually. She said she felt as if there was no hope left for her.

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“I should just give up now because I wasn’t worth saving,” she reflected. “Even if someone did save me, my life was over.”

She said her thoughts spiraled into thinking about the amount of time she would be away from her home. She was afraid of never being found and even forgetting who she was.

“They’ve taken away so much from me, they could take away my life,” she said.

This led to her grasping the smallest piece of hope she could find, Smart said.

“They will never take away that my parents love me,” Smart said.

She continued to want an end to her misery, she said.

After nine months, Smart was rescued in Sandy, Utah, and returned to her family on March 12, 2003.

When she was questioned by the authorities after her rescue, she felt the questions they asked blamed her for not trying hard enough to scream, run away from her abusers or find help.

“My captors had been so abusive for so long, they seemed invincible,” said Smart, now 30. “If I tried to scream or run away, they would kill me, and if they didn’t kill me, they would kill me family.”

Speaking to the media before the lecture, Smart said when she realized that her experience wasn’t making her a victim anymore, but a victor, she knew she had to help others become victors too.

“I realized I had the opportunity to tell my story because of my support,” she said. “Some people are sexually abused by their families and do not have that support. ... The best thing I can do is teach them that they are loved,” Smart said.

Smart said empowering others who were affected is her most important message.

“I want women to take charge of their life without feeling scared,” Smart said. “What happened will never define you.”

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