PROVO — Elizabeth Smart is not shy about speaking out about her abduction in 2002 at the hands of Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, the daily abuse she suffered and the need to let the memories go and move forward.
She is telling audiences across the nation her story (now available in the best-selling book "My Story" by Smart and Chris Stewart) and standing up for victims of rape and abuse everywhere.
"I definitely know what it's like to be there, how heartbreaking it is to not be able to move forward," Smart told the media and an audience of young women at the Heritage School in Provo on Feb. 6. Smart was invited to be the keynote speaker at the school's Hero dinner.
"Elizabeth Smart is just a wonderful example of how you can overcome adversity," said Jerry Spanos, the school's founder.
Smart said she wants the abused and the harmed to understand there is always hope, "no matter how dark it looks."
"They (victims of abuse) need to realize their personal worth," Smart said. "They are precious. They can never be replaced. There can never be another one of them.
"Really, the biggest thing is to talk about it, have conversations about rape, about abuse. I know it's a hard topic."
Smart said she decided to help give a voice to those who have no voice after her father suggested she use her experience for good.
"I really wanted to make a difference," she said.
Smart said her book is exactly what she wanted it to be, "not so horribly graphic that you can't finish it" but candid and clear about her nine months of captivity at the hands of a self-proclaimed prophet.
She's taking tough topics head-on. At the Heritage School, she was open, friendly and sympathetic. She acknowledged that, in her case, she doesn't have to see her abuser again. He wasn't and isn't part of her life or family anymore.
Smart said it's easy to want to simply hibernate and wait out problems, but that doesn't usually solve anything.
She also emphasized that victims may feel powerless, but there is always a choice.
"We do have a choice," she said. "We can work and work and move forward. We can be happy."
She decided to live, "no matter what it took," no matter how long it took.
She tried to ingrain every memory she had of her mother's voice and love.
She relied on knowing her family would always love her and want her back.
She said her faith in God carried her through her nine months of abuse and heartache.
"I know I am a daughter of God," she said. "He loves me. He cares about me. I can always turn to him. That's what carried me through. My (LDS) faith played a pretty huge role."
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