Elizabeth Smart teaching girls, women to fight their attackers

Jul 19, 2022, 7:00 PM | Updated: 7:46 pm
Elizabeth Smart talks at the Elizabeth Smart Foundation office in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 3,...
Elizabeth Smart talks at the Elizabeth Smart Foundation office in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 3, 2022, about her life and partnership with the Malouf Foundation ahead of the 20th anniversary of her kidnapping. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Looking back on her abduction as a child, Elizabeth Smart says she doesn’t know if her self-defense training program would have stopped her kidnapping, but she does know she would have put up a fight and “that I was strong.”

She was 14 when Brian David Mitchell and his then-wife, Wanda Barzee, abducted her from her home in Salt Lake City in 2002 and held captive for nine months until being rescued by police in 2003.

Her kidnappers were strangers to her. But most victims of sexual assault and rape know their perpetrators.

“The sad truth is that — not all — but most sexual violence, most kidnappings that take place come from people that you know,” Smart said.

The victim is not at fault

“You’ve launched this effort to teach girls 10 years and up self-defense. I’m wondering, personally, what’s the first thing you want these girls — a 10-year-old girl, 15-year-old girl — what do you want them to know about self-defense?” Debbie Dujanovic asked.

“The first thing I want them to know –period — is that if anything ever happens to them, it is not their fault. That is the number one thing I want any and every survivor and victim to know,” Smart replied.

Practice breeds success

Smart also emphasized that self-defense is not a skill to learn once and put away until needed.

“You can’t just think, ‘I’m going to go through this self-defense program and that means I’m set for life,’ because should you ever find yourself in that moment of panic, of stress, of fear, your body just reacts, and unless this is trained into your muscle memory, these tools may not be available to you unless you continually practice them,” Smart said.

She also recommends making your self-defense training part of your daily workout and having a workout partner for accountability and consistency.

“When you’re accountable to somebody else, you show up,” Debbie replied.

In case of emergency, tell your kids to be LOUD!

Debbie said she taught her children at a young age to make as much noise as they can if a stranger tries to kidnap them.

“I’ve always taught my own kids who were 5 years on to use bad words, anything they can to draw attention to what’s happening to them if somebody, a stranger tries to take them,” she said. “Is that something you teach your own kids?

“Absolutely. I do teach my own kids that. Now they just roll their eyes at me every time I bring it up,” Smart said.

Where are schools on self-defense?

Smart noted there are fire, earthquake and active-shooter drills in schools, but why is there no training for self-defense?

“We’ve got all kinds of safety, which is so great, and the more the better, honestly, but . . . nobody teaches you what you should do if someone does try to sexually abuse you,” Smart said. 

She also said she was never taught the difference between rape and sex.

“When I was kidnapped and when I was being raped, in my mind, that was the same thing as having sex, which made me feel even worse,” Smart added.

If she had been trained in self-defense, before she was abducted by Mitchell, she said she doesn’t know if it would have stopped her kidnapping.

“But I do feel that would have made me feel empowered to know that I could hit back, that I could fight, that I knew the right way and that I was strong,” Smart said.

Facts about sexual assault

According to RAINN:

  • Every 68 seconds another American is sexually assaulted.
  • 1 out of every 6 American women (17%) has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted).
  • About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
  • From 2009-2013, Child Protective Services agencies substantiated, or found strong evidence to indicate that, 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse.
  • A majority of child victims are 12-17. Of victims under the age of 18: 34% of victims of sexual assault and rape are under age 12, and 66% of victims of sexual assault and rape are age 12-17

Smart Defense courses are offered online and in person in Colorado Springs, Salt Lake City, Riverton, St. George, Pocatello and Kansas City. In autumn, a new location is set to open in Utah County.

Find out more at Elizabeth Smart Foundation.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.  

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Elizabeth Smart teaching girls, women to fight their attackers