Elizabeth Smart's captivity captured the attention of a nation. While the public nature of the darkest year of her life came with its own struggles, Elizabeth Smart has used her experience to become an advocate for change.
"The hardest thing about speaking out and becoming an advocate was the fear of having everyone know what happened to me," Smart writes. "The one thing I would tell a survivor about speaking out is no matter what people’s reactions are, you deserve happiness, you deserve love, you deserve support, and you deserve to know that you are worthwhile."
Recently, on Reddit, Elizabeth Smart opened a forum where people could ask her "anything," a fact that caught the attention of many news sites. But some media outlets have taken Smart's words out of context, claiming she is wary of religion and critical of Church teachings.
But when a Reddit user asked:
"I understand that you came from a religious background, and your captors justified their actions with a very sick and twisted version of religious belief. Do you feel a lot of echoes of that or have trouble moving back to and reconciling your own faith?"
Smart emphatically answered, "No, my faith helped me survive what I did, but when people justify everything they do through religion it makes me wary."
While Smart has provided powerful insights into how some common object lessons in the Church create an inaccurate and even harmful view of what chastity and purity mean, lessons that can harm a member's self-worth and make them feel further from God's love, she did not openly criticize the teaching of abstinence before marriage.
Instead, she writes, "I think it’s fine if it’s your belief to teach to wait to have sex until marriage; however I think it is imperative that no analogy like ‘chewed up gum’ be used, because no matter what your sexual orientation, preference, or when to have it is, it will not detract from your worth as a human being. So, yes, change needs to happen in the way it is taught."
In fact, throughout her journey, Smart has always been adamant about her faith's role in providing healing and strength.
"There wasn't a single day I didn't pray," Smart shared in a BYU-H devotional. "It was the hardest time of my life, without a doubt, but at the same time, it was one of the most spiritual times of my life because I felt my Savior's presence so strongly in my life."
Smart also shared on Reddit how her faith has changed since her abduction: "Yes. My faith . . . played a big part on how I survived. Yes, my faith has changed. I’ve gotten older, it’s widen[ed], it’s expanded, it’s grown since I was a 14-year-old girl."
In addition to speaking about her own experience, Smart shared crucial advice for those wishing to keep loved ones safe from sexual abuse:
1. Make sure your child knows that they are loved unconditionally, and make sure your child knows what unconditionally means.
2. Make sure that your child understands that no one has the right to hurt them or scare them in any way. It doesn’t matter what that person may be: family, friend, religious leader, community leader, it doesn’t matter.
3. Should anyone hurt your child or threaten them in anyway, they need to tell you.
In addition to sharing advice and talking about her experience, Smart gave insights into her day-to-day life, including meeting her husband on her mission to France, her love of the BBC Pride and Prejudice, and what she would "most like to tell us that no one has asked," answering, "My favorite movie is Eddie The Eagle. I can eat Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia by the pint, and my toughest boss is my 2-year-old daughter."