WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – Elizabeth Smart shared a message of hope and survival at Packard Music Hall in Warren Wednesday morning.
When she was 14, she was kidnapped from her home and raped for nine months before being rescued.
“Being kidnapped, and raped, and chained up, and being told I couldn’t talk about my family anymore, being told I would no longer be called Elizabeth,” Smart recalled.
Smart wants to give hope to the hopeless by sharing her powerful story, but she also has a call to action about preventing crimes against kids and how everyone can make a difference.
“I know that there are lots of people out there who look at me and automatically think, “kidnapping survivor,” but I know when I look at me now, I don’t see that anymore.”
Instead, Smart sees the person she wants to be — a child advocate on a mission to educate kids about how they can be their own defense against predators.
“There is absolutely a time when fighting back is not only okay, but it’s a good thing to do,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize that, actually, over 80 percent of children who fight back in a would-be kidnapping scenario actually get away, and that’s a really high percentage.”
She says that when heartbreaking stories are in the news, it’s important to keep these conversations going.
“Every person can make a difference when you keep your eyes open and you’re aware of what’s going on around you,” Smart said. “You see something that’s suspicious, don’t just think that someone else is going to call it in because that other person might be thinking the exact same thing.”
Smart says it’s important to remember that even when these stories are not in the limelight, it’s still an ongoing problem.
“Predators don’t target a specific race, a specific walk of life. They target opportunity and when we’re ignoring topics like human trafficking, when we’re ignoring topics like rape, sexual violence, those are going to be opportunities for these predators to come into your homes or to get at your children.”
Smart had part of her life taken away from her, but says there was one thing no one could take away — knowing that her parents love her.
“That my parents would always love me and that they would always want the best for me, and realizing that, that for me was something worth surviving for.”
She says anyone who is struggling with anything needs to find something that’s important to them.
“You have to find what’s worth surviving for you, and that’s going to carry you through.”
She’s grateful for all of the prayers during those nine months and the support she received.
“I’m not sorry for what’s happened to me, I don’t regret it. I feel extremely blessed and extremely grateful for the goodness of everyone who has helped me, who has helped my family along our way, who has cheered me along because every single prayer made a difference.”
Now Smart is happy, married and has a little one.
If there’s one thing she wants people to walk away with, she hopes it’s this:
“Some sort of hope. Feeling like no matter what it is that they’re dealing with, that they can keep going and that it doesn’t need to define who they are. That they can decide who they are.”