Elizabeth Smart to speak at annual Charities Journey of Hope

By Joe Lee
JACKSON – Abducted at age 14 from her Utah family home in 2002 in a kidnapping that drew national media coverage, Elizabeth Smart spent nine months in captivity and had no idea if she would ever see her parents, siblings and friends again.

Very close to parents who brought her up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Smart leaned hard on her faith during her ordeal.

“I was raised believing the family unit was forever,” she said. “Even if I had died while in captivity, there would still be a brother or grandparent – my family would still be a family. Conversely, if I got home and learned one of my parents had died, I knew I would see them again one day, and we would still be a family. That was a very large source of comfort to me.”

Now 34 and married with three small children, the national bestselling author will sign copies of My Story and Where There’s Hope at Bravo Restaurant of Jackson at a meet-and-greet from 6-8 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 13. She’s the keynote speaker the following day at the annual Journey of Hope luncheon, presented by Catholic Charities, Inc. at the Jackson Convention Complex.

In addition to being a devoted wife and mother, Smart is president of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which focuses on fighting sexual exploitation, advocacy, and prevention education. Not surprisingly, she is quite passionate about using her platform to help young girls and women who may not realize they are at risk.

Smart, however, was hardly ready to discuss what had happened to her in the immediate aftermath. And while it took the case against captor Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, a whopping eight years to go to trial, a silver lining of having to testify in open court about what she endured was Smart deciding she was ready to go public with her story and begin her advocacy.

“I initially swore I would never do a book, a movie,” Smart said. “When I first got home (in 2003), I didn’t really understand what therapy was. In the first 48-72 hours I was taken to a children’s advocacy center where I was extensively interviewed by two middle-aged male psychiatrists.”

“They were very religious and good at their jobs, but I’d been abused – a lot – for nine months in just about every way you can imagine by middle-aged men who used religion to manipulate. Speaking to men so graphically about being raped was horrific, devastating. When I got out of that room, I thought, ‘If this is what therapy is, I don’t ever want to do it again.’

“Looking back, those men were investigators gathering evidence, and they were doing their jobs. They weren’t therapists, and I believe in therapy 100 percent,” Smart said. “After the trial, I realized my story deserved more than a list of ‘bullet points.’ I knew there was value in it because what I went through could help people understand and change, provide some amount of hope in their lives. That’s what pushed me to tell my story, to become involved in pieces of legislation.”

Smart will bring a message of situational awareness to her audiences in Jackson, as well as one of deep, abiding faith for young girls and women who’ve suffered.

“My favorite campaign that we do for the Elizabeth Smart Foundation is ‘We Believe You,” which is in support of victims knowing we believe them,” she said. “If you doubt their story, that can set the trajectory for whether they pursue healing in a positive or negative way: ‘If Mom didn’t believe me, no one will.’ It’s a poison that can kill you from the inside out.

“I want females to know they’re daughters of God, and that He loves them more than they can ever imagine. I want them to recognize that everything taken away from them and everything that caused them distress can be healed,” said Smart.

Journey of Hope luncheon: Tuesday, Sept. 14 from 12-1 p.m. at the Jackson Convention Complex. Elizabeth will speak for 30 minutes and will be followed by Johanna Beeland of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, who will speak on human trafficking in our state.

Human trafficking prevention and victim services to be featured at
Journey of Hope

By Joe Lee
JACKSON – Human trafficking, including the kind of torture and suffering Elizabeth Smart went through for almost a year, is real, and happens right here in Mississippi. It takes great courage and trust to speak up after being traumatized, but valuable and completely confidential resources are always available.

“In order to prevent human trafficking, communities must rally together and be made aware that it exists,” said Wanda Thomas, executive director of Catholic Charities, Inc. (CCI).

“We want to make certain that children, youth, parents and at-risk adults in our cities are educated. It is important to bring awareness through factual details of what trafficking looks like. Furthermore, we want to provide education as it relates to recovery after rescue.”

CCI’s victim services program furnishes trafficking victims with shelter, food, medical attention, clothing, counseling, legal information and assistance with crime victim compensation. The Healing Hearts program, also a service of CCI, offers specific trauma counseling for both young girls and adult women.

“For our youth, we have Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT),” said Lakeisha Davis, CCI community service program director. “TF-CBT is especially sensitive to the unique problems of youth with post-traumatic stress and mood disorders resulting from sexual abuse, violence or grief. We move at the pace of our client, and no process is rushed or has a time limit. We are here as long as it takes.

“Our women also receive intense trauma therapy. Again, we know and understand that trauma is real and healing hurts. Our last phase is reprogramming, where we rewrite the story with our client, teaching our client to reconnect with others, to develop social skills, and we allow her to mourn the losses from those years spent in survival mode. We believe in validation, acceptance and, most of all, healing.”

Johanna Beeland, deputy director of engagement and human trafficking manager for the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, will speak at the Journey of Hope luncheon about helping trafficking victims recover with hope and dignity.

“We have an interactive services map and potential access to the crime victims’ compensation fund,” Beeland said. “We encourage all victims, or anyone who may know of someone being trafficked, to report that information to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

“Tips can be reported anonymously, 24/7, and are directed to local authorities on the ground, like our office, in real time, to ensure quick and timely responses to possible victims. I’ll also be sharing information on the signs that you or someone you know is being trafficked, and how to report trafficking.”

Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or text the word INFO to 233733. For more information on victim assistance at the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, visit www.AttorneyGeneralLynnFitch.com. Visit Catholic Charities Inc. at catholiccharitiesusa.org.