Surviving trauma for a young teenager like Elizabeth Smart seems next to impossible, but the Higher Power is good because she was rescued from the hands of her captors.
Elizabeth Smart survived a great ordeal. She is helping young women and children today by educating them to avoid victimization through prevention, recovery, and advocacy.
After her abduction, Elizabeth became an advocate for missing persons and victims of sexual assault.
One night, 14-year old Elizabeth was sleeping soundly in her bedroom in their Salt Lake City home, a bedroom she shared with her 9-year old sister, Mary Katherine. A man sliced open their window screen. He pressed a knife against Elizabeth’s throat. He threatened to kill her family, starting with her sister Mary Katherine if she screams. Elizabeth did not scream.
Brian Mitchell abducted Elizabeth and brought her to the mountains on the outskirts of the city where he was camping with his wife, Wanda Barzee. Elizabeth was raped repeatedly. They tied her up and held her captive for nine months, nine months of unimaginable torment and disturbing living conditions.
Elizabeth was kept in a dugout with mice and spiders and was forced to take drugs and drink alcohol. During her captivity, she accompanied her captors on several occasions and went unrecognized by people whom she came in contact with.
On March 12, 2003, Elizabeth’s abductors brought her to a Walmart store in Sandy, Utah, approximately 18 miles (29 km) from her home to steal camping supplies. Elizabeth saw a bulletin board with pictures of missing children. She scanned for her photo, but she didn’t find it. “No one remembers or cares about you anymore,” her captor said to her. She wondered if her family stopped looking for her already.
Little did she know that she was moments away from her most awaited rescue.
They were walking back to the campsite when two police cars pulled over. The officers jumped out and surrounded them. A police officer pulled Elizabeth away from her kidnappers. She was shaken. It was so surreal that she was being rescued while she can still see Mitchell and Barzee within arms’ reach.
She’s still unsure if she is really going home.
The officer asked Elizabeth her name. She was so nervous. Her heart was racing she couldn’t believe that what was really happening. Her skin was sunburned. She was dehydrated and malnourished.
“Are you Elizabeth Smart?” he asked. “Because if you are, your family has missed you so much since you were gone! They want you back. They love you and they want you to come home.”
Someone from the store recognized her captors from “America’s Most Wanted” and immediately called the police. She finally uttered the words: “I am Elizabeth.”
About Elizabeth Smart
Smart is now 30 years old she is married now with children of her own. Her dad wrote a book, Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope.
Elizabeth also wrote her own book titled, My Story, in 2013. In addition, there was also a documentary and a movie narrated by her in 2017.
Elizabeth started the Elizabeth Smart Foundation “to bring hope to families, peace to victims and empowerment for all.”
For Elizabeth, surviving trauma is possible. It is possible to have a life after being abused for so long. She knows that it’s so hard to speak up if you are a victim of sexual assault.
Most victims are never able to tell their story, they’re frightened to tell anyone especially the police.
There are countless cases of abuse and most cases involve a family member or someone close to family. These cases put family members in a position where they have to choose a side. “It is tragic because that is the norm,” Elizabeth said.
“Every survivor should know they are not alone.” Elizabeth Smart
Her foundation is not just focused on prevention but surviving trauma itself. She travels and talks about her grueling experience and victims will tell her what happened to them. She would tell them that whatever happened in her past didn’t break her and it shouldn’t break them. That there’s hope.
She is a living example that there is life after trauma.
How did she go on?
Surviving trauma, Elizabeth didn’t give up. She held on to her faith during her captivity. Family is forever and not even death can change that. “That belief for me was instrumental,” says Elizabeth. “I knew that even if my captors killed me, they could not change that — I would be with my family again someday,” she said.
She believes that she has a heavenly father watching over her. She believes that it was all a test, that life is a test, and we are put down here on earth to make choices.
“If I get to the end of my life, if I die, and I find out religion is one big lie, I still won’t regret it because it’s helped me to live a better life, to be a better person, to care about people, to believe in forgiveness, to believe in hope,” Elizabeth says.