I picked up Elizabeth Smart’s book out of sheer curiosity. In 2002 she was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City, Utah home at age 14. While her family dealt with suspicion from the public, she was just a few miles above her East Bench neighborhood, held captive in a makeshift campground by the twisted Brian David Mitchell.
Unbelievably, Elizabeth was rescued 9 months later. I remember the news broadcast that interrupted the TV (I was probably watching Arthur with my little kids at the time) to say she had been found in Provo (where I live). Elizabeth Smart was alive.
Her story is crazy, horrible, and frightening — especially to mothers of 14-year-old daughters who live in Provo. I worried that reading My Story would scare me and make me paranoid. And, it did; the story is horrifying. But more than that, Elizabeth’s courageous tale left me feeling inspired. Reading it had a huge impact on me — such a huge impact that I encouraged my daughter to read it as well.
Initially I just wanted to know more details about the kidnapping. Elizabeth’s father had hired the homeless Mitchell to do some work around their house. That’s how Mitchell was able to case out the house and Elizabeth’s room. She was taken in the middle of the night with a knife to her neck, away from her little sister who slept beside her (and who didn’t speak up about the abduction because she was terrified and traumatized). It’s such a scary story and so improbable, which is why police efforts focused on Elizabeth Smart’s father and brothers at first. This wasted so much precious time while Elizabeth was barely surviving, chained in a camp in the canyon above her home.
Elizabeth Smart was raped and abused every day for 9 months. There’s no getting around that fact. But the book does not deal with explicit details.
So why would I let my daughter read this?
I’m not saying this book is appropriate for all 14-year-old girls. But I talked to my daughter about it so she would be prepared for the disturbing material. And what I really wanted to expose her to is the indomitable spirit and hope of Elizabeth Smart. Whatever you may think about her family or the way she acted in the situation, she wanted to live. That is what kept her going. I am amazed by this. She admits that during the worst of it, when she had no hope to be rescued or to escape, she knew she would outlive Brian David Mitchell — even if it took 20, 30, 40 years. And in her innocent, 14-year-old mind, that was worth it. I am impressed by this because I think many people in her situation would have just wanted it all to end.
When Elizabeth was reunited with her family, her mother told her, “Don’t let Brian David Mitchell take another second of your life.” Since then, Elizabeth has resolved to move forward and to not let this experience ruin her life. Here is a girl who had every right and reason to just give up. To become bitter, fearful, a recluse, or any number of understandable reactions to surviving something so traumatizing.
But she courageously moves forward.
Now 26, Elizabeth has graduated from college, served an LDS mission in Paris, France, and married an adorable Scotsman whom she met and served with on her mission.
She has become an advocate for victims of sex trafficking and believes a message of self-worth is important for women who have been abused. Children need to be taught that nothing can happen to them that will devalue them. (You can watch her speaking here.)
I was blown away by Elizabeth’s perspective at the end of her book. What a remarkable woman. What an inspiring story of endurance. She wanted to survive no matter what. I wanted my daughter to read her story and hear that no matter what happens to you, surviving is worth it and life can get better if you hang on through sheer tenacity and grit. I want my daughter to know that I love her and will accept her no matter what she does or what people do to her.
She got the message. My daughter read the book and while she did find parts of it disturbing, she finished reading it, inspired and impressed with the courage of Elizabeth Smart. She told me that she thinks Elizabeth Smart is amazing and would love to meet her some day. By virtue of her survival and endurance, Elizabeth Smart has become something of a hero to my daughter, instead of a victim. We both learned a lot from this book! I hope she files the experience away to draw on later in her life when she needs it.
My Story, co-written with Chris Stewart, is available from Amazon.