SALT LAKE CITY — On Sunday, it will be 20 years since Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped. Smart was abducted from her family's home in Salt Lake City on June 5, 2002. She was sexually abused for nine months by Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee until her rescue in Sandy in March 2003.
Since that time, she has become a powerful voice for those who have survived similar experiences.
FOX 13 News anchor Bob Evans sat down with her on Friday to talk about the 20 years since her abduction.
In recalling her ordeal, Smart said: “It took me a while to recognize that I will never be who I was before all of this happened. That will never happen. That person is gone."
That left Smart with the challenge of not just moving beyond what had happened to her, but actually making something good come of it.
Earlier this year, the Elizabeth Smart Foundation merged with the Malouf Foundation, creating the opportunity for her to expand her influence with leaders and policy-makers.
“When you actually see someone in front of you telling you their story and really living it for you, and you have that, I mean, just face-to-face almost emotional connection with this person as they're telling you what they experienced, and how these actions have influenced the rest of their lives, it makes a difference. It makes a huge difference," Smart said.
The combined Smart and Malouf foundations empower individuals, communities and survivors to confront sexual violence and exploitation — especially sex trafficking and online abuse. Smart said she now feels like the future is unlimited.
Much of what the two foundations will do will be educational. She used the example of teaching safety to children. She pointed out that if someone’s clothes were to catch fire they would “stop, drop, and roll." When crossing a street, children are taught to “look both ways." But when dealing with someone who is revealing sexual abuse, most people don’t know what to do.
Smart pointed out that “about every 70 seconds in America, someone is sexually abused. Every nine minutes, it's a child."
Resources available through the combined foundations include initiatives, the Smart Talks podcast, healing programs, and the “We Believe You” campaign every November.
"I would hope that in another 20 years from now that survivors aren't scared to speak out; that they aren't riddled with guilt and shame," Smart said. "I hope that as a community, as a nation... frankly, globally, I hope that we are a little bit more compassionate and a little bit more supportive."
Great good is coming of what happened to Smart 20 years ago — but not without tremendous effort on her part, and all who worked to bring her home.
“I will never stop saying thank you to the people that have loved me and supported me and searched for me and supported my family," she said. "I will forever be grateful."
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