At a conference to end child trafficking, Elizabeth Smart said shame over abuse and rape can be paralyzing and may explain why many human trafficking victims don't run.
“Why didn’t you run? Or why didn’t you scream? I think it goes even beyond fear. For so many children, especially in sex trafficking, it’s feelings of self-worth. It’s feeling like who would ever want me now? I’m worthless,” said Smart, according to CBS in Baltimore.
At a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum in Baltimore on Wednesday, Smart said education needs to happen early and go beyond avoiding situations or people — parents and teachers need to teach children that they have value, no matter what.
"If I had been taught more, I think perhaps I would have been more prepared, and I think the younger we can educate children the better it is,” Smart said. She recalled a school object lesson about abstinence, sex and chewed gum that she remembered during her captivity, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
"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."
Smart was kidnapped from her home in 2002 at age 14 by Brian David Mitchell. It was nine months before Smart was reunited with her family, and she suffered abuse throughout her captivity.
Now 25, Smart has started a foundation, the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, to "educate and empower" children and support law enforcement who rescue victims.
"Nobody can ever blame a child for their actions when they are being threatened, bullied, forced or coerced into doing something unthinkable," says the organization's mission statement.
Baltimore CBS reports that 300,000 children are at risk of sexual exploitation in the U.S. Worldwide, there are as many as 2.4 million human trafficking victims.