SCRANTON —A woman whose abduction as a teenager and recovery nine months later made international headlines said she had about 100 messages she’d like to impart to an audience at the Scranton Cultural Center on Thursday.
“But I’d have to say the main one is: ‘Hope!’ I think that encompasses everything — hope that we can overcome our individual struggles, hope that tomorrow is going to be better than today, hope that anything can happen,” child safety advocate Elizabeth Smart said in an interview at the launch of the Commonwealth Health Chapter of Healthy Woman.
Smart was abducted from her home in Utah at knifepoint at age 14 in June 2002 by Brian Mitchell, held captive by him and his wife, Wanda Barzee, for nine months, and repeatedly sexually assaulted. Smart’s sister, who recognized the voice of the kidnapper, identified him as a homeless man the family once had do work for them.
A biker who saw a sketch of Mitchell on “America’s Most Wanted” TV show spotted him and alerted police in March 2003. Mitchell and Barzee were apprehended and Smart was returned to her family. Mitchell was tried in 2010 and is serving a life sentence. Barzee was sentenced to 15 years and is scheduled for release in 2016.
“I think, for me, I have forgiven them. But in the same breath, that doesn’t mean I would invite them over for Sunday dinner,” Smart said. “I think that whatever goes unpunished in this life will certainly be made up for in the next.”
Smart, 25, and still living in Utah, has been speaking publicly and advocating for child safety for two years. “What happened to me, I don’t think anybody should have to experience that. … If my speaking out helps raise awareness, which will cause change to happen, then I want to do that.”
One thing she is speaking about is radKIDS — a personal empowerment safety education program for children. The “rad” stands for “resist aggression defensively.” Kimberly Pellicano, Healthy Woman Coordinator, said she and another certified instructor hope to begin offering local classes soon.
Information about radKIDS and women’s health issues were available at the new chapter launch. Pellicano said the Wilkes-Barre and Berwick chapters recently merged to include all eight Commonwealth Health hospitals.
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Excerpts from an interview with Elizabeth Smart
Q: Have you fully recovered from the experience?
A: I hope that today I was better than I was yesterday, and I think life if a journey, where every day we try to be better than the day before. So yes, in one breath, I would say that I have healed completely. But at the same time, I never want to stop becoming better, I never want to give up trying to move forward and pursue my dreams and goals.
Q: Why did you decide to begin speaking publicly?
A: (Smart said she hopes speaking out will help empower other sexual abuse victims to do the same) so that it becomes a bigger issue, because it’s everywhere. As much as we wish it weren’t, it is.
Q: What sre one or two of your dreams or goals?
A: Right now, I’m struggling with a cold. I would love to get better. (She laughs. Then after some pondering, continues.) I have a lot of them. One of them is, I am currently working on my book and it’s due to come out in October, so I am desperately trying to reach that goal and finishing my story.
Q: Have you seen the TV movie or read the book about your experience? And why did you decide to write your own book?
A: I have not seen the TV movie. Other people’s books, well, those were other people’s experiences. This is my story. I think there are a lot of reasons. Certainly when a lot of facts came to light during the trial, I wanted to put perspective on it, I wanted to tell my story. I wanted to say not just necessarily what the event was, but I wanted to give it from my perspective, I wanted people to understand how it was instead of just, I don’t know, I’m not exactly 100 percent sure of what everyone thinks about it. But I wanted to give my side of the story. And even beyond that, I’ve been asked to speak by so many people and I’ve been asked numerous times to write my story and I never felt like the time was right, but I feel like it is now.
Q: What’s been most difficult for you and what’s helped you ther most?
A: Probably the most difficult would be going from being a quiet little wallflower 14-year-old girl to all of a sudden have people know me everywhere I go and know about me. I think that’s probably the most shocking. But what’s helped me the most, that answer is easy: God, my family and the support and prayers of my community and the nation.
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