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Former kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart advocates for child safety

By Clayton Hanson

chanson@charlotteobserver.com

Elizabeth Smart speaking to the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club at the Carmel Country Club.
Elizabeth Smart speaking to the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club at the Carmel Country Club. Clayton Hanson - chanson@charlotteobserver.com

Elizabeth Smart, who drew international media attention after being kidnapped in 2002, spoke at the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club in Charlotte on Friday morning.

Smart discussed how hard it can be on victims when people ask them why they didn’t just run away.

“So many survivors hear the question, ‘Why didn’t you?’ and what they hear in their mind, ‘You should have,’” said Smart. “That ends up being just about as damaging as what happened to them because it makes the victim feel like it’s their fault. But it’s not.”

Smart also discussed the mindset of victims and the ongoing struggle of how difficult it is to speak up.

“I had been told for nine months that if I ever said anything that I would be killed, and why wouldn’t I believe them?” Smart said. “They had successfully kidnapped me, they raped me, chained me up, abused me, all these different things and no one had ever stopped them.”

Ninety percent of abuse is caused by someone the child knows and trusts, Smart said, citing a statistic commonly used by other child abuse prevention advocates.

“We talk so much about stranger danger, but it’s not strangers that we need to be worried about most of the time,” Smart said.

Smart said making sure that parents have an open dialogue with their children can prevent repeated assaults.

“I meet victims and survivors all the time that say, ‘I felt like it would hurt my parents’ or ‘I feel like it’s my fault,’ and that’s just not true,” Smart said.

Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom in her family’s home in Salt Lake City on June 5, 2002. She was rescued nine months later.

Through the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, she has become an advocate for change related to child safety. She has helped promote the national Amber Alert system, the Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act and other safety legislation to help prevent abductions and help survivors of abuse.

Recently the foundation has teamed up with Operation Underground Railroad, which helps rescue children who are being trafficked around the world.

Smart became a mother this year. When asked if she’s an overprotective mother she smiled and said, “Absolutely.”

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