Elizabeth Smart shares message of hope, survival to sold-out crowd

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Elizabeth Smart held a news conference before speaking in Idaho Falls Thursday evening. Watch it in the video player above.

IDAHO FALLS — Finding happiness each day, overcoming trials and holding on to hope. Those were the themes of the impactful message Elizabeth Smart shared during a sold-out event Thursday evening.

Nearly one thousand people gathered in the Colonial Theater for “An Evening with Elizabeth Smart” to hear her story of being violently abducted from her Salt Lake City home on June 5, 2002. Smart suffered through the demands of her captors and was sexually abused each day for nine months until she was rescued March 12, 2003.

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“I hope whoever comes and listens, no matter what their story is or what their struggle is, that they feel inspired and encouraged that they can keep going,” Smart told EastIdahoNews.com during a news conference before the event.

After returning from a week-long camping trip with her husband and two young children in Grand Teton National Park, Smart seemed happy to return to eastern Idaho to share her story.

She said her experience of sexual abuse is different from most others because the crimes against her were committed by strangers, whereas an estimated 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser.

In these cases of abuse, Smart said a biological connection does not constitute a family bond.

“Find your family,” Smart said during her speech, encouraging survivors to rely on the help of those who love and protect them.

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Smart shared her insecurity of no longer being a virgin once she was raped by Brian David Mitchell. She spoke of her Mormon faith encouraging youth to have sex only after marriage and feeling like she was no longer of worth because her virginity was taken from her.

Elizabeth Smart spoke to a sold-out crowd at the Colonial Theater Thursday night. | Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com

She said she felt like “damaged goods,” or a “chewed up piece of gum” and recounted a young man in an LDS Seminary class stating he would only marry a virgin. The audience applauded as Smart remarked that someone who used that as a deciding factor for a spouse didn’t deserve her.

Smart said after she was reunited with her family, she wasn’t comfortable sharing her experience until court proceedings were finished for Mitchell, and his wife, Wanda Barzee.

“During those eight years (of waiting for the trial to finish), it was really important for me to go back to high school, go to college, go experience some more life and kind of get a better idea of what I wanted to do,” Smart said. “I knew that I wanted to do something that was meaningful. I knew that I wanted to do something that was going to make a difference.”

Smart said she knew she had an opportunity to make a difference and that she would only need to speak about what she felt comfortable sharing. She ended up releasing a memoir called “My Story” in 2013 and earlier this year published her second book, “Where There’s Hope: Healing, Moving Forward, and Never Giving Up.”

“I realize that every single one of us has a story, and I think to some degree we’re all searching for the same things: How do we overcome our problems? How do we have happiness in our lives?” Smart said.

Smart spoke for nearly an hour and then took questions from the audience at the event, which was sponsored by Richard and Peggy Larsen Farms, Chad and Jessica Larsen Farms and EastIdahoNews.com. All proceeds will be donated to the Elizabeth Smart Foundation.

Smart said she will continue to be an activist and travel the nation sharing her story of survival. Her definition of a survivor is someone who didn’t give up and keeps going.

“It doesn’t mean they had to come out glamorous, or beautiful, or star-studded, but they kept going even when things got hard. Even when it seemed like everything was falling apart around them – they kept going to the bitter end,” Smart said.

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