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Columns

January 20, 2014

LYONS: America has much to learn from Elizabeth Smart

If I had to describe Elizabeth Smart with a single adjective, that word would be “sane.” If allowed a second, I’d add “courageous.”

Most people recognize Smart as the 14-year-old Utah girl who was kidnapped from her bedroom by a self-proclaimed Mormon “prophet” and his equally deranged wife and used as a sex slave for nine months before police apprehended the oddly dressed trio walking down a Salt Lake City street — en route to a mountain hideout where Smart had been kept tethered to a steel cable like a dog and raped on a daily basis.

What they may not understand amid the fog of gossip, misinformation, and fixed ideas that attach to high-profile sex crimes are the crucially important things she’s saying about rape, sexual violence and recovery. Moved by Margaret Talbot’s excellent profile in the New Yorker, I decided to read Smart’s book “My Story.”

If I could, I’d require every high school and college-aged kid in America to read and talk about it — although people who allow their children untrammeled access to the Internet and cable TV often freak out at “adult content” being permitted in schools.

Not that there’s an ounce of titillation in it; quite the opposite.

Now 26, Smart heads her own foundation for the prevention of child sex abuse and gives about 80 speeches a year. She’s said that one of her goals as a public figure is to make “talking about rape and abuse not such a taboo.”

But there’s more to it than that. Smart’s speeches, Talbot reports, “reliably end on a note of quiet resilience ... ‘Never be afraid to speak out. Never be afraid to live your life. Never let your past dictate your future.’”

No doubt Talbot is correct that “Smart’s Breck-girl beauty had been part of what fascinated people about her kidnapping, and now that beauty seemed to confirm her triumph as a survivor.”

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