“It’s really the choices that we make after something happens that make us who we are.”
These are the words of Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted from her home by a man holding a knife to her throat at the age of 14. That night, June 5, 2002, was just the first of her nine months of captivity, during which she was repeatedly sexually and mentally assaulted.
In an event held through the collaboration of Student Programs, the Women’s Resource Center, Science Club for Girls, R.E.A.C.T, FISTS, Sharps, To Write Love on Her Arms, I Am That Girl, Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics, UGBC and Strong Women, Strong Girls, Elizabeth Smart shared her story of strength and hope.
Witty and charming, Elizabeth Smart started off by stating, “I don’t think I’ve spoken to a room quite this packed before.” After filling to capacity (and beyond), the doors to McGuinn 121 were shut by BCPD.
The night before her junior high graduation, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart slept by her sister’s side in their bed, a place that she considered to be “…the safest place in the world.” To her disbelief, she was woken up by a strange, bearded man holding a cold, sharp knife to her throat. “I have a knife at your neck. Don’t make a sound. Get up and come with me,” he said. The man, Brian David Mitchell, repeated his statement and guided her out of the house and into the woods of Utah to a camp that he had set up.
At the camp, a robed woman named Wanda Ileen Barzee emerged from a tent wearing a headdress over her long, grey hair. It was that night that Brian David Mitchell told her they were married and “consummated” their marriage by raping her for the first of hundreds of times that would follow during her nine-month-long captivity.
For Smart, the person who was her greatest inspiration to survive was her mother. She knew that the two most important people in life, the two people would love her no matter what, were God and her mother. Smart decided that she would do whatever it took to survive. She was determined to go home and see her family once again.
As she played her mother’s voice over in her head, she made an affirmation to herself. “I didn’t want to forget who I was. I didn’t want to forget where I came from.” As time passed, Smart made it through one day at a time.
After spending the winter in California, Mitchell and Barzee thought about where to travel next and where to look for another girl to abduct. They pondered over New York City, Philadelphia and even Boston. Smart tactfully convinced Mitchell that they should return to Salt Lake City, claiming that she felt it was God’s will.
He enthusiastically agreed, and they set off to Salt Lake. Upon arriving, they were surrounded by police. Smart reluctantly and fearfully confessed her identity, at which point she was handcuffed and driven to the police station.
Elizabeth received something much better than prison, though. It was at the police station that her dad ran in and hugged her “…and I knew that never again would another person be able to hurt me the way these two people had hurt me for the last nine months.”
When she finally got to see her mom, she described her as the most beautiful person she had ever seen. Her mom gave her the best advice she has ever received, reminding her daughter that what happened to her was terrible and that there are no words to describe how wicked and evil Mitchell is, but at the end of the day God is our ultimate judge.
Holding onto her pain and dwelling in the past could not help. “The best punishment you could ever give them is to be happy.” That is exactly what Smart did. She took a terrible situation and made the best of it to live a happy life.
This past Wednesday, April 9, 2014, Smart returned to the site of her captivity in California for the first time. She said that it was amazing to go back and think about where she is now compared to where she was then.
She is not the same person. Smart does admit to having her bad days, but she now lives with her Scottish husband of two years, Matthew Gilmour, and her two dogs, Archibald and Angus.
She is grateful for the people she has met, the people she has worked with, and the people whose lives she has changed as a public speaker and advocate for sexual abuse prevention. “We always have a choice no matter what we are faced with,” she said. Smart made the choice to move forward, to find a way back to happiness. Elizabeth Smart is not sorry that she was kidnapped. She is not sorry about anything that happened to her.