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Elizabeth Smart reveals details of assault, and what she’s doing about it

Elizabeth Smart discusses her recent experience on an airplane, and what she is doing to make sure other women can defend themselves. (Photo credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah — Elizabeth Smart is talking about a recent assault, but not the assault that happened during her childhood.

She says that last summer, she jerked awake and then froze when she felt a man’s hand rubbing her inner thigh. The two were sitting side by side on an airplane.

“I waited for him to say something, or give some excuse,” she told KSL Newsradio.

“He just looked at me and left his hand on my leg. I sat there in shock. I just froze.”

She said that when he didn’t remove his hand or even apologize, she picked up his hand and put it back over the armrest to his seat.

“The rest of the flight I sat there torn. I was angry that it had happened to me, but I also kept thinking, ‘what do I do now? What do I do now?'”

Smart said the FBI knows the name of the man who was seated on that flight. Their investigation is ongoing.

Reaction similar to childhood kidnapping

Her experience last summer reminded her of her reaction when she was kidnapped by Brian David Mitchell in 2002 when she was 14 years old. Frozen by shock.

She says that ever since that flight last summer she’s felt ashamed, angry, and guilty that she didn’t scream or do something.

So now, she’s doing something about it.

Recent assault motivated Smart to help others

The airplane assault gave Smart new motivation and drive to empower other women and girls. She says that’s why she decided to share the story of what happened on the airplane.

“I’m sick of being a victim, and I’m sick of everyone else being a victim,” she told KSL Newsradio.

After the airplane assault, Smart says a friend taught her a few self-defense moves. Then together they developed a line of self-defense classes through the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. The ten-week classes offer a mix of different techniques and fighting methods and are taught with the help of law enforcement.

Self-defense and beyond

Even after each ten-week course is over, Smart wants the women and girls to stay connected and up-to-date with the skills and knowledge they acquired.

So she’s planning a series of workshops, podcasts, and other ways to talk about the issues of consent, boundaries and healthy relationships. It will be called “Smart Talks.”

And Smart wants other sexual assault victims to know something important.

“They did nothing wrong. It’s not their fault for whatever happened. If they froze, that is a completely natural instinct,” she said.

And she wants her three children to know something even more important.

“First, nobody has the right to touch you or hurt you or threaten you. If anyone does, it is not your fault. And no matter what happens to you, I will always love you,” she said.

Further reading

Elizabeth Smart’s attorney says kidnapper’s release is a tragedy

OPINION: With Wanda Barzee’s release, don’t forget Elizabeth Smart