NY1 Parenting Correspondent Shelley Goldberg recently caught up with Elizabeth Smart -- who made national headlines after being kidnapped and abused in 2002 -- to find out how her experience has changed her life and filed the following report.
Elizabeth Smart of Salt Lake City, Utah made headlines in 2002 when she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted at age 14. She was found alive nine months later, and now the 25-year-old works as an activist through the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. She recently spoke about her experience at a luncheon for the New York Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
"I was quite naive before I was kidnapped and I didn't think abuse took place," said Smart. "The truth is abuse goes on all around us, all the time, in every neighborhood. It doesn't matter if you're rich, poor, black, white, blue, it just doesn't matter. It happens everywhere, and all of us need to be aware of it, and all of us need to be working together to put an end to it so we don't have to wait for the next tragedy to come along for us to act."
She wants parents and children to know that if kids are ever in danger, they have the right to protect themselves.
"If they are ever in a situation that they don't feel comfortable with someone they know or someone they don't know, they absolutely have your permission to do whatever is that they need to to get away. Whether it's yelling, whether it's biting, screaming, kicking, scratching, whatever it is, they have your permission. They do not need to be polite to someone who is hurting you," Smart said.
And yet, in spite of her traumatic experience, Smart says it has given her the opportunity to now bring a message of hope to others.
"You never know because of something you've experienced who you're going to be able to help, who you're going to make a difference in," said Smart. "Certainly for me, I wouldn't be here today speaking with you had I not been kidnapped. I wouldn't be able to go around and speak to many people about my experience and what we can do to change it. It's not always easy to see the positive when we're in the middle of a negative, but it is worth moving forward, it is worth having that hope, and it is worth living."
For more information, visit elizabethsmartfoundation.org.