Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Monday, February 18, 2019

If I had to describe Elizabeth Smart with a single adjective, that word would be “sane.” If allowed a second, I’d add “courageous.”

Most people recognize Smart as the 14-year-old Utah girl who was kidnapped from her bedroom by a self-proclaimed Mormon “prophet” and his equally deranged wife and used as a sex slave for nine months before police apprehended the oddly dressed trio walking down a Salt Lake City street—enroute to a mountain hideout where Smart had been kept tethered to a steel cable like a dog and raped on a daily basis.

What they may not understand amid the fog of gossip, misinformation, and fixed ideas that attach to high-profile sex crimes are the crucially important things she’s saying about rape, sexual violence and recovery. Moved by Margaret Talbot’s excellent profile in The New Yorker, I took the trouble of reading Smart’s book, My Story.

If I could, I’d require every high-school and college-age kid in America to read and talk about it — although people who allow their children untrammeled access to the Internet and cable TV often freak out at “adult content” being permitted in schools.

Not that there’s an ounce of titillation in it; quite the opposite.

Now 26, Smart heads her own foundation for the prevention of child sex abuse and gives about 80 speeches a year. She’s said that one of her goals as a public figure is to make “talking about rape and abuse not such a taboo.”

But there’s more to it than that. Smart’s speeches, Talbot reports, “reliably end on a note of quiet resilience… ‘Never be afraid to speak out. Never be afraid to live your life. Never let your past dictate your future.’”

No doubt Talbot is correct that “Smart’s Breck-girl beauty had been part of what fascinated people about her kidnapping, and now that beauty seemed to confirm her triumph as a survivor.”

Quite so. Smart isn’t ruined; she’s not a psychological wreck; she hasn’t let being the victim of a grotesque crime break her. She rides her horses; she plays her harp. She’s loving and beloved. The monster tried to destroy her, but she won.

However, there’s a double-edged aspect to her cover-girl looks that Smart herself never discusses, partly out of modesty, I imagine.

If TV audiences saw her as a symbol of innocence brutalized, then so did her captors. The “holy man” who took her—a psychopath using religion to mask pedophilia, she believes—clearly got off on defiling and degrading her, while his wife’s collaboration just as obviously stemmed from insane jealousy over her girlish beauty.

The fact that she came from a close-knit, loving family also contributed to Brian David Mitchell’s destructive obsession. And it was precisely his constantly repeated threats to murder her parents and siblings if she ran that prevented Smart from bolting. Remember, the child was 14.

“I’m just a little girl,” she begged that first terrible night. “I haven’t even started my period. I’m still a child.”

So it comes as more of a disappointment than a surprise to see people who ought to know better talking nonsense. Commenters to a sympathetic article in Jezebel, an online magazine also featuring articles on “Creatively Exposed Skin at the Golden Globes After-Parties,” sneered that she belonged in “the category of ‘how a wealthy white woman rises above a truly horrible experience,’” and doubting that her family had to beg for help.

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14 responses to “America Still Has Much To Learn From Elizabeth Smart”

  1. old_blu says:

    What an awesome young lady. I’m so glad she turned this horrible thing that happened to her into a positive for others. She is a great person, and an asset to all of us.

  2. idamag says:

    Elizabeth Smart is a profile in courage. She did not succumb to being a victim, but a beacon for others who have been violated. Yes, her story should be required reading in high school. No, it is not titillating.

  3. daniel bostdorf says:

    To think that this was done in name of a cult of religion: Mormonism…

    Held captive for nine months by Brian David Mitchell a mormon zealot, Smart endured unspeakable things in the name of religion…

    Michell is a man who believed 1) that he was a true prophet of God …2) that Elizabeth was to become his wife among many….So–what he did was that he used whatever means to carry out his end of deprivation all in the name of religion…

    The tragedies of Mormonism:
    False prophets teaching psychotic ideas in the guise of speaking for God.

    The bigger tragedy is that Mormons believe that it was a girl’s own fault this happened….and that she is a sinner in the eyes of the church?? Victimizing the victim??

    Back in 1981 Mitt Romney’s dad said this in Ensign Magazine 7 years before she was born and at the time Mitchell was indoctrinated:

    “You will recall Alma’s teaching his son Corianton that unchastity is
    the most serious offense there is in the sight of God, save murder or
    denying the Holy Ghost… Some years ago the First Presidency said to the
    youth of the Church that a person would be better dead clean than alive
    unclean… I remember how my father impressed the seriousness of
    unchastity upon my mind. He and I were standing in the railroad station
    at Rexburg, Idaho, in the early morning of 12 November 1920… ‘remember
    this, my son: we would rather come to this station and take your body
    off the train in a casket than to have you come home unclean, having
    lost your virtue.’ …President Clark, in a conference address in October
    1938, said: … ‘Please believe me when I say that chastity is worth more
    than life itself. This is the doctrine my parents taught me; it is
    truth. Better die chaste than live unchaste. The salvation of your very
    souls is concerned in this.’” (Marion G. Romney, “We Believe in Being Chaste,” Ensign, September 1981).

    Examples of some of the Mormon Prophets and Apostles that create a group mindset of psychosis around sexual intercourse:

    “Also far-reaching is the effect of loss of chastity. Once given or taken or
    stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape
    or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not
    cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more
    favorable position. There is no condemnation where there is no voluntary
    participation. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to
    live having lost it without a struggle” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 196).

    “Loss of virtue is too great a price to pay even for the preservation of
    one’s life — better dead clean, than alive unclean. Many is the faithful
    the Latter-day Saint parent who has sent a son or a daughter on a
    mission or otherwise out into the world with the direction: ‘I would
    rather have you come back in a pine box with your virtue than return
    alive without it.’” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 124.)

    “…There is no true Latter-day Saint who would not rather bury a son or daughter than to have him or her lose his or her chastity — realizing that
    chastity is of more value than anything else in all the world.” (Heber
    J. Grant, Gospel Standards, 55)

    Is this anyway to base a religion on?

    Given what happened to her and the background of her cult upbringing …I am amazed that she can even get up in the morning let alone publically talk about it in the inspiring manner she does. With love and compassion in her heart…

    She has led the way for the world to come to grips with this issue. There are tens of thousands of “Elizebeth Smarts” out there, and we must not forget their horror as well…

    Here is a very comprehensive report from last October to read as background about Elizabeth Smart:

    • jointerjohn says:

      I agree with you that the fundamental tenets of Mormonism are despicable, but you seem to let the other denominations off the hook. Christianity as it has been perverted by humans treats women as second-class chattel, Mormonism is simply the cult that found nineteenth century Christianity not brutal enough, and heaped on some extra racism and sexism. I trust no monotheists.

      My Christian friends sometimes tell me that Jesus is coming back, to which I say, “you’d better hope not!” They give me a puzzled look, and then i explain, “when he sees what you have done with his message he is going to be really pissed!”

      • daniel bostdorf says:

        I really liked what you said “when he sees what you have done with his message he is going to be really pissed!”

        Thanks for your perspective….I too am not a monotheist by any stretch….more a cause and effect humanistic based system based in love and not centerd around any “god.” I believe in many phrophets both male and female because their message has nothing to do with gender…

        • Allan Richardson says:

          Amen to that! I have written before that anyone who believes in unrestrained greed as a Christian virtue, and the attempt to restrain it as “socialism,” may have to explain that some day to Comrade Jesus.

    • neeceoooo says:

      I don’t think that David Mitchell is much different from Joseph Smith.

    • Sand_Cat says:

      None of the above is surprising in light of the fact that evidence shows Joseph Smith had his “revelations” about polygamy after he fell in love with the wife of one of his followers, and used these supposed divine commands to seduce her into adultery.
      But jointerjohn below is right: Christianity and Islam are no great shakes, and if the Exodus and Joshua narratives are to be believed Judaism has its own mass murders to answer for as well.

      • daniel bostdorf says:

        Welll–that is the subject of an article that has yet to be written…and I am afraid if we open up too many sub-categories of thought… ESPECIALLY issue about Israel…it will deflect from the article’s intended purpose of Smart’s love and reconciliation. Very Christ like…

        Even if she still is a Mormon.

        Love knows no religion…it is simply love…

        I am reminded of my late 60’s humanities teacher’s admonition:

        “Religion controls the soul…
        Politics controls the body…
        Love controls both of them…”

        by Sam Oberholtzer who passed on 7-7-77

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