In June of 2002, a frightened 14-year-old girl was taken from her bed in the middle of the night at knifepoint. That young girl, Elizabeth Smart, was then held captive for 9 months suffering through threats, sexual abuse, and a sham marriage to her kidnapper. Elizabeth was recovered in March of 2003 when a viewer of America’s Most Wanted recognized her at a gas station. Now, at age 27, Elizabeth Smart is an advocate for missing persons and the prevention of crimes against children.
Elizabeth Smart took a traumatic, devastating event in her life and not only overcame the trauma, but used her experiences to help others suffering from the same horror. In her own words, she says, “Too many families experience the nightmare of having a child go missing. I know what it is like to be that child. I know what it is like to think that one false move may lead to not only your own death but the death of family members as well. Nobody can ever blame a child for their actions when they are being threatened, bullied, forced, or coerced into doing something unthinkable.” In fact, she created the Elizabeth Smart Foundation in order to provide the support necessary to rescue and assist children from those situations. In addition to the foundation, Elizabeth has worked with the Department of Justice and four other recovered young adults to create a survivors guide to encourage children recovering from similar experiences to not give in to the anxiety and depression that follows in the form of survivor’s guilt. In 2011, Elizabeth was awarded the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation’s DVF Inspiration Award for displaying strength and courage in the face of adversity, and using her experience and influence to effect positive change.
Recently, Elizabeth Smart has stepped into the spotlight again, this time for a different Elizabeth. Elizabeth Salgado is older than Elizabeth Smart was when she was kidnapped. Salgado, age 26, was last seen leaving after her English class at the Noman Global school in Provo, Utah. Classmates said she left class on April 16th and turned left toward her home approximately 18 – 19 blocks away from the school. She had only been in the US for a month before her disappearance and speaks very little English. While she was recorded on video travelling to class, there is no footage of her return trip. The Provo City Police have reached a dead end.
Fighting the anxiety inducing flashbacks of her ordeal that surely must have come from hearing her own name used in conjunction with a kidnapping case, Elizabeth Smart stepped back into the spotlight with her father to plead for assistance in the case. Holding a press conference to garner support, Elizabeth said, “I do believe that she’s alive and we can find her. The one thing that I continually hope and pray for is that every child that is missing can have the same coverage, have the same prayers and have the same support that I had.” Displaying the same courage that kept her going through her abduction, she brought the focus back to herself hoping that her name would spark interest and increase media coverage of the case.
Ed Smart, Elizabeth’s father, encouraged the media to continue reporting of the disappearance. “What brought Elizabeth home was everyone’s help in finding her, specifically having the media out there bringing the awareness of this missing girl”, he said.
The Smarts’ involvement has indeed attracted national attention, just as Elizabeth had planned. At the press conference, she had some words of support for Salgado, “Hang in there, keep fighting, keep surviving,” she said. “Do what you have to do to survive because we’re looking for you, and we will find you.”
Elizabeth Smart is much more than a survivor. She has become a mentor and a friend to those whose lives she has touched. She is an advocate for change and a symbol of hope. Knowing what she has survived families can remain hopeful for their family member, hopeful that recovery will occur and physical and mental health healing can begin.