Elizabeth Smart: Abstinence Education Detrimental To Rape Victims

The discovery of three women in a Cleveland home who all had gone missing separately about a decade ago brings to mind cases of abductions elsewhere. Elizabeth Smart says she is elated by the women's rescue. The Salt Lake City woman was kidnapped at age 14 from her bedroom. She was freed nine months later when she was found walking with her captor on a suburban street in March 2003.

The discovery of three women in a Cleveland home who all had gone missing separately about a decade ago brings to mind cases of abductions elsewhere. Elizabeth Smart says she is elated by the women's rescue. The Salt Lake City woman was kidnapped at age 14 from her bedroom. She was freed nine months later when she was found walking with her captor on a suburban street in March 2003.

Smart also discussed this week how conservative "abstinence only" programs that emphasize sexual purity can be detrimental to victims of human trafficking and rape.

Smart advised the Ohio women to focus on moving forward and letting go of the past. And she urged people to allow the family privacy so they can heal and "find their own pathway back to some sense of well-being."

She also advised the women not to let their alleged kidnappers continue to control their lives.

"He's stolen so much from them already, they deserve to be happy. And I would tell them I hope that they realize there is so much ahead of them, that they don't need to hold on to the past," Smart said. "They don't need to relive everything that's happened, because it's proof, their rescue is proof that there are good people out there."

Speaking at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum on Wednesday, Smart answered the question many Americans who followed her story on the national news wondered, why didn't she just run away as soon as she was brought outside?

She explained that some victims don't run away after being raped because they feel worthless, especially if they have been raised in conservative religious cultures that push abstinence-only education and emphasize sexual purity:

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”

Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

Since her rescue, Smart created the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to bring awareness to predatory child crimes and speaks about her own experience.

Smart says children should be educated that "you will always have value and nothing can change that."

About Diane Sweet

Diane Sweet's picture
Senior Editor, Lives in a gerrymandered district in Michigan.

Comments

We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.