15 Years After Her Abduction, Elizabeth Smart Shares Her Advice For Keeping Kids Safe

“The hardest part about rejoining society was realizing that I would never go back to being the old me."

After she was found and reunited with her family, abduction survivor Elizabeth Smart had every reason to withdraw from the public spotlight. For nine months after she was taken at knifepoint from her Salt Lake City bedroom in 2002, the then-15-year-old's name and face had dominated TV news reports and newspaper pages.

Now, all these years later, Smart still making headlines for her advocacy work. In 2011, she founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, and she has worked to spread awareness about abduction and abuse ever since.


In fact, she just participated in a Reddit AMA on November 6. "I'd be lying if I said anonymity wasn't tempting, but I want to continue advocating until change happens," she said as she dutifully answered user-submitted questions on everything from her abduction to the #MeToo movement to her favorite musician. (Blake Shelton, for the record.)

Smart's 2014 TED Talk.

For one, the 30-year-old said she's "extremely blessed" that she has not suffered from PTSD, and she courageously told Redditors about her time in captivity. "I couldn't just [run away]," she explained. "I couldn't just scream out. Everything I did, I did to survive. I never suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. I never identified with my captors or cared about them. Every decision was made with survival in mind … Specifically, learning their tactics and eventually using those tactics against them."

On March 12, 2003, Smart was found in the custody of her captors in Sandy, Utah, and was reunited with her family and friends — though her life was irrevocably changed. "The hardest part about rejoining society was realizing that I would never go back to being the old me," she told Redditors.

She also shared the advice her mother gave her afterward: "What has happened is terrible, there are no words to describe how wicked and evil they are, they have stolen 9 months of your life that you will never get back. But the best punishment you could give them is to be happy."

Turning her attention to present-day society, Smart addressed the recent focus on sexual harassment and assault.

"Sexual abuse is so prevalent today, chances are it's not just one person you know that's experienced sexual abuse but many people that you know that have experienced it," she said. "We need to be able to address these issues openly, talk about them regularly, and be supportive when survivors do come forward.

"I think the #MeToo campaign is great. I think it's bringing attention to the issues of sexual violence. At the very least it's getting people to talk about a topic that is so easily swept under the rug."

Smart is also advocating for awareness around child safety — especially as she and husband Matthew Gilmour are now the parents of two young kids.

"It's a constant struggle between being overprotected vs. wanting to let my children experience life so they're prepared for the future," she explained. "Fortunately, both of my children are young so I control most of their activities, but as they get older, I think that it will be a constant battle between letting them experience life on their own terms and wanting to protect [them]."

To that end, Smart has the following advice for all parents: "Make sure your child knows that they are loved unconditionally, and make sure your child knows what unconditionally means. Make sure that your child understands that no one has the right to hurt them or scare them in any way. It doesn't matter what that person may be: family, friend, religious leader, community leader, it doesn't matter. Should anyone hurt your child or threaten them in any way, they need to tell you."

She also offered anti-abduction tips, inspired in part by Rad Kids, a organization that offers prevention education. 

 "Practice screaming," she suggested. "Encourage your kids to fight back, there is a place and a time when it's not only acceptable it's encouraged."

This month, more than 15 years after her abduction, Smart is participating in a cross-network media event on A&E and Lifetime. You can also learn more about her story and her current work by visiting the Elizabeth Smart Foundation website.


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