Activist Elizabeth Smart says that her memoir, “My Story,” aims to empower and encourage others with similar experiences. She believes sharing the story of her kidnapping experience will help survivors and victims find their own pathway to recovery.
Smart is the founder and president of Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which supports the Internet Crimes Against Children task force and seeks to educate children and adults about prevention of violence and sexual crimes.
Smart spoke last Tuesday, Oct. 15 at the Salt Lake Community College Grand Theatre. She shared information on why she decided to write her memoir. She read some excerpts and signed books for the audience. “My Story” was written with the assistance of U.S. Representative Chris Stewart.
Elizabeth Smart was taken captive at knifepoint from her bedroom at her parent’s Salt Lake home on June 5, 2002 at the age of 14. She was rescued nine months later in Sandy, Utah.
Her captors, Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee manipulated and tied her to a tree. They forced her to drink alcohol until getting drunk, and she was coerced into conforming to Mitchell’s sexual demands.
Smart describes Mitchell as an expert manipulator who persuaded his wife, Wanda to abandon her children and join him in his criminal career, convincing her that he was the anointed prophet of God.
As a result, Barzee willfully cooperated in forcing and subjugating Smart. Barzee agreed to use Smart to satisfy the lustful desires of Mitchell during the nine months, several times a day.
“Part of the reason why I felt so bad, was that my family was very religious,” Smart says. “In my faith, and in my family, a great deal of emphasis is placed on sexual purity, waiting until you are married for those kinds of relationships.”
At that point, Smart had mixed reactions, wondering if she could ever be accepted again by her family after what happened to her.
Mitchell’s intentions were to corrupt Smart with frequent religious lectures persuading her to believe that she was a woman chosen by God. Mitchell claimed that, as the prophet of God, he was sent to rescue her from this wicked world.
Smart recalls that Mitchell justified his pornography, drinking, drugs and lustful desires with false reasoning, repetitively saying that “the Bible says that before you can rise above all these things, you have to descend below them all.”
“‘I had to descend below them all’ is a phrase that he used all the time,” Smart writes in her memoir.
Mitchell wanted Smart to experience all the perversity of the wicked world and sink her in the lowest level of perdition, so she could be cleansed and be worthy of becoming the wife of the prophet of God.
“All of it was terribly exciting to him. And Barzee was his willing partner,” Smart writes. “Words can’t explain how humiliated and disgusted I felt.”
After being taken by her captors to different public places such as the bus, downtown SLC, parks, grocery stores and a party, some people may have wondered why she never just ran away and asked for help.
“Fear was the reason [for not running away],” she says. “Fear for my life and fear for my family.”
Smart explains in her memoir, that after a while, fear and constant dread begins to change a person in captivity.
That fear “changes his or her way of thinking and expectations.”
She was convinced that Mitchell would kill her and her family if she ran away. This kept her from running.
“Nothing could have convinced me that wasn’t true,” Smart says. “I wanted to protect my family; I felt driven to protect my family.”
Trying to find a better place to hide, Mitchell took Smart to San Diego, California.
However, knowing that Mitchell was always guiding himself by events he thought were signs of God, Smart persuaded Mitchell to believe that God wanted them to come back to Salt Lake City. Smart started manipulating him, pretending to acknowledge that he was the real prophet of God. Mitchell agreed to follow Smart’s suggestions and came back to Salt Lake.
Fortunately, upon their arrival, police approached them. Smart was recognized and rescued.
Once she was taken back home, she started a process of healing to cope with her traumatic experience.
“The main reason I was able to survive is because of my God, my family and my community,” Smart says.
Smart says that she has not received any professional counseling, but she feels relief because healing comes from her family and God.
“It’s very important to stress that every survivor must create their own pathway to recovery,” Smart says. “God gave me the ability to forgive, leave the past behind and look forward instead of the past.”
“All of us have the potential inside us to reach so much further and grow so much more than any of us think we can,” Smart says.
Smart’s positive attitude respecting her kidnapping experience has strengthened her spirit.
“We are all humans and face trials,” Smart says. “But we are also masters of our fate. We are the ones who decide how we are going to react to life.”
“My Story” aims to empower other people with similar ordeals. Smart wants people to know that she is now recovered and living a happy life with her loving family.
She continued her college career and eventually married. Smart is now a child advocate who travels the country lecturing and inspiring people to endure their trials.
“I am happy, fulfilled, and satisfied and at peace with myself and the life I have built.” Smart says.