Elizabeth Smart has dedicated her life to raising awareness for crimes against children, however the kidnapping and sexual assault survivor has revealed she’s faced backlash for speaking out against her abductors and sharing her story.
In a new interview with Bella Magazine, the 31-year-old author and child safety advocate offered a glimpse into the questions and comments she’s fielded after her kidnapping and rape by Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee.
“Once while on a date, I was even asked, ‘You were raped so many times. Was there any moment you just accepted it and enjoyed it?’” Smart said. “My jaw hit the floor.”
Smart made international headlines when she was abducted from her Salt Lake City, Utah home by Mitchell in 2002. The then 14-year-old was held captive and repeatedly raped by Mitchell, who Smart testified had delusions of grandeur and subjected her to “nine months of hell.”
Mitchell travelled with Barzee and Smart to San Diego, and was frequently seen panhandling with his victim in public. Smart says Mitchell threatened to kill her family if she tried to escape and forced her to wear a wig and strange clothing as a disguise.
Smart was rescued in March 2003, after she was spotted in Sandy, Utah, five miles from her family’s home.
The now married mother-of-three said that she often faces criticism from people for not trying hard enough to escape her captors.
“As a victim, I was doing everything I could, every single day, just to stay alive,” Smart told the magazine. She added that the blame she experienced from the public was compounded by her religious upbringing in the Mormon church.
“That made the rape and sexual abuse even more traumatic,” she explained. “Adding layers of shame, embarrassment and worthlessness. I knew deep down that I hadn’t been complicit [but] I still couldn’t help but feel guilty and dirty.”
In 2010, Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison while Barzee was sentenced to 15 years for kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor. On Sept. 19, 2018, 73-year-old Barzee was released from prison despite Smart’s protest.
“She is a woman who had six children and yet could co-conspire to kidnap a 14-year-old girl, and not only sit next to her while (she was) being raped, but encouraged her husband to continue to rape me,” Smart told reporters during a press conference ahead of Barzee’s release. “So, do I believe she I dangerous? Yes, but not just to me. I believe that she is a danger and a threat to any vulnerable person in our community.”
Last month, Smart took to social media to share how she has grown to become “grateful” for the horrors that have happened to her.
“I never thought I would say that I’m grateful for what happened to me as a 14 year old girl but I can honestly say that I’m not sorry it happened to me because of what it has allowed me to do, the people I’ve been able to meet, and the cause that has become and driven such a large part of my life,” she wrote. She added, “As an advocate for victims I know first hand that it doesn’t always feel like justice is served however it makes such a difference to be considered in the process even if that process includes perpetrators being released from prison.”