Like everyone else with whom I’ve ever discussed the Elizabeth Smart case, as years pass and the crimes against her are finally being adjudicated in the courtroom, I find myself ever more impressed with this young woman’s quiet confidence, strength and composure. At yesterday’s sentencing of the vile man who kidnapped 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart nine years ago, raped her repeatedly, and violently abused her in a wide variety of other ways, she once again stood tall, spoke clearly, and showed herself to be an advocate for all sexual assault victims.
And that’s what Elizabeth Smart is. She’s a victim of multiple violent rapes at the hands of a sadist named Brian David Mitchell. Which is why I am so irritated every time I see yet another media report referring to Elizabeth Smart as having been coerced into a “marriage,” or discussing how she was forced to become Mitchell’s “wife.”
Elizabeth Smart was not ever in a “marriage,” nor was she ever anyone’s “wife.” Furthermore, the freaky and abusive pre-rape ritual she endured just hours after she was kidnapped at knifepoint – a ritual in which Mitchell’s actual wife, a very sick adult woman named Wanda Barzee also participated – was not a “wedding.’”
Just because a rapist wants to call his abuse of a child “marriage,” or refer to the victim as his “wife,” does not mean that the media should adopt that language in describing the crimes committed. It’s one thing to say that the criminal who assaulted Elizabeth Smart erroneously referred to her as his “wife” during her time in his captivity, but it’s wrong for reporters to simply parrot the language of Brian David Mitchell without qualifiers. Calling sexual slavery “marriage” minimizes and softens the horror of the crime and suggests some level of willingness or complicity on the part of the victim.
Elizabeth Smart is a lot of things – smart, brave, and self-assured come to mind – but she is not, nor has she ever been anyone’s “wife.”
Read about Demi Moore’s DNA Foundation efforts against sexual slavery.