Elizabeth Smart gave a keynote address Thursday evening at Provo’s Heritage School, a treatment center for at-risk youth. Before her speech, Smart took questions from the press and gave further insight into her book and her everyday life.
Q: Why are you willing to come out and speak to these at-risk girls?
Smart: I definitely know what it’s like to be there, and one of the most heartbreaking things is to see others who are experiencing similar traumatic things and they aren’t able to move forward. They aren’t able to see how wonderful they really are, how valuable they are, how much worth they have and what they can go, do and become — I mean just how much potential they hold, so I am deeply honored to be here tonight.
Q: Is it emotionally taxing for you? Does speaking about your experiences take you back there?
Smart: These girls tonight are so refreshing and so wonderful and so sweet and kind. No, not at all. It is a pleasure to be here tonight.
Q: How did you initially get involved? Do you remember a conscious decision to reach out and help girls who’ve been in situations like you?
Smart: Yes, I do remember a conscious decision. Ever since I was rescued I’ve done an occasional speech, and they were usually quite shaky and shy and I wasn’t quite sure what to say, but then time passed. I was able to go to high school, I was able to go to BYU, I was able to experience a bit more of life. And I decided that I wanted to do something, I really wanted to make a difference.
A few years ago I was talking to my dad because he’s great. I mean what doesn’t he do — he’s the best. So I was just saying, “Dad, I would really like to just do something that’s going to make a difference. I feel so blessed. I want to try and give back some.”
And he said, “Speaking out and sharing your story would be a great way to start that.” That’s how it started, and I just have to say I have been absolutely amazed at just how many people do want to listen to me.
Q: As you meet with these girls, what do you tell them about finding a way to succeed in life?
Smart: There are so many things I would love to just sit down with each one of them and talk their ears off about. But I think it is so important for each one of them to realize how much worth they each have, and that can’t be diminished by somebody else, by what they do or say. I want them so much (to know) that they are so precious and that they can never, never be replaced. In the whole history and future of the world there will never be another one of them. That’s one of the biggest things I would want them to know.
And second of all, I would want them to realize there is always hope. No matter how dark a trial or a moment may be, there is always hope that they can move forward. It’s not easy or fun, but it’s not the end either.
Q: Can you elaborate on the Hero app or other projects?
Smart: I do support that app. Really, I think one of the biggest things I can be doing is talking about my experience and not just saying, “I was kidnapped and now I’m rescued and I’m happy and great now.”
Bringing about those conversations that are difficult to have, those conversations about rape and what you should do, and abuse and how to deal with that. Helping parents to open those lines of communication with their children because I know it is a hard topic to talk about. I have parents who come up to me and say, “I think my child might be too young to have this conversation.” And I can’t imagine because I’m not a parent yet, but when I hear of stories and I meet parents of children who have been abused as young as 6 months old, part of me just thinks they’re never too young to have this conversation. Maybe you don’t go into the gory details of it all, but you certainly prepare them. You do the very best you can to prepare them, because what most people don’t realize is that over 80 percent of children who fight back, they do get away. They are able to escape from a kidnapping scenario. But there still is that umpteenth percentile that they do not escape. Your child — only they can make that decision. But to help prepare them is the most important thing we can be doing.
Q: In your book you talk about a glass of water. How do you reconcile that there was a glass of water when you still had to endure more weeks and months of captivity?
Smart: It took me a long time to decide to include that in the book because it is such a special, sacred experience. But I ultimately did decide, because it was one of those moments that helped me to realize that I wasn’t forgotten. That even though all of these terrible things were happening, that I wasn’t alone. That I wasn’t forgotten about. That God didn’t just turn around and say, “Well, on to bigger and better things.” That he was still there; he still cared about me.
Q: What has been the response to your book?
Smart: I am so proud of my book. It is exactly what I wanted it to be. I wanted it to tell my story, and I wanted it to say what had happened, but I didn’t want it so horribly, graphically detailed that you couldn’t finish it. So it is exactly what I want it to be. As far as I’ve heard, I’ve had a very positive feedback. I mean, many people say how difficult it was to read, but how happy they are that they did. That makes me feel like it was worth it.
Q: What’s your next project?
Smart: I plan to continue speaking and exploring the different ways that I can try to make a difference and try to reach out to people. I’m not exactly 100 percent sure of what all that will entail, but whatever it is, I certainly approach it with every intention of making a difference.
Q: How much do you credit your LDS faith for your survival?
Smart: So much. I can never remember a time not having my parents try to teach me the different gospel principles, teach me that I am a daughter of God and that he loves me and that he cares about me, teach me that I can always turn to him no matter what. I can always find solace in him. That’s always been a huge part of my life. That’s what carried me through my kidnapping and that still plays a pretty huge role in my life today.