Favorite

Read Elizabeth Smart's book 

If I had to describe Elizabeth Smart with a single adjective, that word would be "sane." If allowed a second, I'd add "courageous."

Most people recognize Smart as the 14-year old Utah girl who was kidnapped from her bedroom by a self-proclaimed Mormon "prophet" and his equally deranged wife and used as a sex-slave for nine months before police apprehended the oddly dressed trio walking down a Salt Lake City street — en route to a mountain hideout where Smart had been kept tethered to a steel cable like a dog and raped on a daily basis.

What they may not understand amid the fog of gossip, misinformation and fixed ideas that attach to high-profile sex crimes are the crucially important things she's saying about rape, sexual violence and recovery. Moved by Margaret Talbot's excellent profile in the New Yorker, I took the trouble of reading Smart's book "My Story."

If I could, I'd require every high school and college-aged kid in America to read and talk about it — although people who allow their children untrammeled access to the Internet and cable TV often freak out at "adult content" being permitted in schools.

Not that there's an ounce of titillation in it; quite the opposite.

Now 26, Smart heads her own foundation for the prevention of child sex abuse and gives about 80 speeches a year. She's said that one of her goals as a public figure is to make "talking about rape and abuse not such a taboo."

But there's more to it than that. Smart's speeches, Talbot reports, "reliably end on a note of quiet resilience...'Never be afraid to speak out. Never be afraid to live your life. Never let your past dictate your future.' "

No doubt Talbot is correct that "Smart's Breck-girl beauty had been part of what fascinated people about her kidnapping, and now that beauty seemed to confirm her triumph as a survivor."

Quite so. Smart isn't ruined; she's not a psychological wreck; she hasn't let being the victim of a grotesque crime break her. She rides her horses; she plays her harp. She's loving and beloved. The monster tried to destroy her, but she won.

However, there's a double-edged aspect to her cover-girl looks that Smart herself never discusses, partly out of modesty, I imagine.

If TV audiences saw her as a symbol of innocence brutalized, then so did her captors. The "holy man" who took her — a psychopath using religion to mask pedophilia, she believes — clearly got off on defiling and degrading her, while his wife's collaboration just as obviously stemmed from insane jealousy over her girlish beauty.

The fact that she came from a close-knit, loving family also contributed to Brian David Mitchell's destructive obsession. And it was precisely his constantly repeated threats to murder her parents and siblings if she ran that prevented Smart from bolting. Remember, the child was 14.

"I'm just a little girl," she begged that first terrible night. "I haven't even started my period. I'm still a child."

So it comes as more of a disappointment than a surprise to see people who ought to know better talking nonsense. Commenters to a sympathetic article in Jezebel, an online magazine also featuring articles on "Creatively Exposed Skin at the Golden Globes After-Parties," sneered that she belonged in "the category of 'how a wealthy white woman rises above a truly horrible experience,' " and doubting that her family had to beg for help.

Actually, family members were treated as suspects for a time.

Meanwhile, the comparative silence of the feminist left has been noticeable. I suspect Smart's religiosity has a lot to do with that. Anyway, too bad, because she's talking about sexual victimization and shaming in ways that young people of every persuasion need to hear.

Today a married woman, Smart spoke to the New Yorker with disarming frankness. "There's a huge difference between rape and sex. Having experienced both, I know it's not the same thing."

But she also told a conference at Johns Hopkins last year how "dirty and filthy" she felt after her assailant first raped her. She believes that church teachings about sexual "purity" are a terrible mistake.

"I remember in school one time I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence, and she said, imagine, you're a stick of gum and when you engage in sex, that's like getting chewed, and if you do that lots of times, you're going to be an old piece of gum, and who's going to want you after that? And that's terrible, and nobody should ever say that."

However, thinking of her mother's love caused Smart to reject feelings of worthlessness and determined to survive. And no, she never grew to love her captors. Terror, not "Stockholm Syndrome," prevented her from fleeing until police had Mitchell in handcuffs.

Then she removed her disguise and said, "I'm Elizabeth Smart."

Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • Trump and Russia

    If you think about it, no wonder Donald Trump prefers the imaginative stylings of Fox News to the presidential daily briefing. He's pretty much the network's target demographic: a daffy old-timer with time on his hands.
    • Feb 23, 2017
  • Bungling

    If the late, great Donald Westlake had written spy thrillers instead of crime capers, they'd read a lot like the opening weeks of the Trump administration.
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • All about politics

    Have Americans really become a nation of gullible cowards? Sometimes it looks that way.
    • Feb 9, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Obama takes long view

    Right now, it's beginning to look as if President Obama will end up deserving the Nobel Peace Prize he was so prematurely awarded in 2009.
    • Jul 23, 2015
  • Trump and political correctness

    So I see where candidate Donald Trump and former Gov. Sarah Palin are complaining about "political correctness," the supposedly liberal sin of being too polite to tell the unvarnished truth. Me too. I've always laughed at the follies of self-styled "radical" left-wing professors.
    • Sep 3, 2015
  • Not again

    This just in: Nothing boosts circulation or enhances ratings like a sex scandal.
    • Jan 14, 2016

Most Shared

  • Architecture lecture: Sheila Kennedy on "soft" design

    Sheila Kennedy, a professor of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of Kennedy & Violich Architecture Ltd., will give the June Freeman lecture tonight at the Arkansas Arts Center, part of the Architecture + Design Network series at the Arkansas Arts Center.
  • Petition calls for Jason Rapert Sewage Tanks in Conway

    A tribute is proposed for Conway's state senator Jason Rapert: naming the city's sewage sludge tanks for him. Petitioners see a similarity.
  • Health agency socked with big verdict, Sen. Hutchinson faulted for legal work

    A former mental health agency director has won a default judgment worth $358,000 over a claim for unpaid retirement pay and Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson is apparently to blame for failure to respond to pleadings in the case.
  • Religious right group calls for compromise on damage lawsuit amendment

    The Family Council, the religious right political lobby, has issued a statement urging its followers to oppose the so-called tort reform amendment to limit attorney fees and awards in damage lawsuits.
  • Constituents go Cotton pickin' at Springdale town hall

    Sen. Tom Cotton, cordial to a fault, appeared before a capacity crowd at the 2,200 seat Pat Walker Performing Arts Center at Springdale High tonight to a mixed chorus of clapping and boos. Other than polite applause when he introduced his mom and dad and a still moment as he led the crowd in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance — his night didn't get much better from there.

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Trump and Russia

    If you think about it, no wonder Donald Trump prefers the imaginative stylings of Fox News to the presidential daily briefing. He's pretty much the network's target demographic: a daffy old-timer with time on his hands.
    • Feb 23, 2017
  • Bungling

    If the late, great Donald Westlake had written spy thrillers instead of crime capers, they'd read a lot like the opening weeks of the Trump administration.
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • All about politics

    Have Americans really become a nation of gullible cowards? Sometimes it looks that way.
    • Feb 9, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Little River County gears up for Sesquicentennial

Little River County gears up for Sesquicentennial

Historical entertainment planned for joint celebration of three Southwest Arkansas milestone anniversaries

Event Calendar

« »

February

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28  

Most Viewed

  • Arkansas voters know what they want

    With a surprisingly strong vote, 53 percent of Arkansas's voters said last Nov. 8 that they wanted to bring medical marijuana to the state.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Arkansas voters know what they want

    • It is inappropriate for disgruntled legislators to take revenge upon the citizens of the state…

    • on February 25, 2017
  • Re: Future is female

    • When I try to be pithy I probably come across like an asshole, but there…

    • on February 25, 2017
  • Re: Hating the media

    • Yup, as Jefferson said "Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper"…

    • on February 25, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation