Elizabeth Smart was the keynote speaker at the "Surviving Voices" event last week at Idaho State University.
By LACEY WHELAN
POCATELLO — Elizabeth Smart shared her story of how she was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002 at Idaho State University’s College of Arts & Letters week of events to raise awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence.
The program “Surviving Voices” Stories of Violence Against Women and the Persistence of Hope ran from December 5 through December 8. There were a series of events that ranged from a documentary entitled “In Plain Sight” with representatives from the Operation Underground Railroad and local law enforcement, Elizabeth Smart Keynote Address, Talk by Christine Hart, international women’s rights advocate, opening performance of “Voices” featuring choreography by Lenora Lee, and a matinee performance of “Voices.”
Smart’s keynote address was a sold out event where she told the story of her abduction, her personal process of recovery and the importance of it. She also discussed topics such as overcoming adversity.
Smart was kidnapped by knifepoint from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah by Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Ileen Barzee on June 5, 2002. Over the series of nine months Elizabeth at 14, had been drugged, repeatedly raped, and subjected to bizarre rituals by her captors. She then was recognized while out with her captors in Sandy, Utah and rescued. Brian David Mitchell is now serving a life sentence while his wife Wanda Ileen Barzee is in the midst of a 15-year sentence in a federal prison but will be up for parole next year.
When asked about her recent movie that debuted in November and how the movie idea came about Elizabeth says for years she has been asked to do a movie or documentary and it was really scary, “Well it was one thing to say it but then try to portray it on a screen for everyone to watch and feel those same emotions while I was being kidnapped. How could I do that justice? How could anyone ever portray it 100 percent accurately? I never really thought I could find someone who I could trust my life to someone else to portray that.” Elizabeth did help produce and narrate the movie that debuted in November.
Elizabeth advised that she didn’t want to tell her story at first, but as she continued speaking with other survivors and victims she couldn’t help but realize and what made it more poignant that there are so many people that have survived something similar to her. “Realistically what had happened to me is not that unique. Kidnapping happens everyday, rape happens everyday, sexual violence happens every single day,” she continued. She took it as an opportunity to give the viewers something to understand what it is like to go through something like it and if they know someone who has gone through rape or some kind of sexual violence and how to go about helping them without asking ignorant or embarrassing questions.
“Sexual violence is one of those taboo topics that has, up until recently has been very hard to address in homes, in families, communities, they don’t really know what to do about it. Today as we’re hearing more and more all of these allegations of sexual violence… We are in a moment, that this is huge, this is so important. We can’t allow this just to disappear to melt away like it basically every time in the past.”
Elizabeth encourages parents and families to have conversations about sexual violence in an age appropriate manner, and talking about what’s okay and not okay. Three things that parents need to talk about with their children are they are loved unconditionally, and no one has the right to hurt, threaten or scare them, and if they are hurt they should tell their parents who would believe and support them.
For young men who have been victims of sexual violence, Elizabeth said, “The word survivor to me doesn’t mean weak, it doesn’t mean less than, it doesn’t mean tainted in anyway. To me, when I hear the word survivor I hear strong and I want them to know what’s happened to them is not their fault. I want them to know it doesn’t make them any less of a man. I want them to know that there is no shame in coming out and speaking about what’s happened to them… we need more men to come forward to talk about what’s happened.”
Elizabeth has found in her experience that sexual assault and rape in particular it is a crime that is in many regards is worse than murder, because you keep living, you keep feeling those feelings there is no one size fits all or magic formula that will make everything better, you just have to find what works for you whether it be a form of therapy, but by holding it inside you are constantly filling yourself with filth and guilt and no survivor or victim should have to go through that. Being a survivor of rape is hard enough and holding it in is stealing your life away from you, which no one should be allowed to do this.