Elizabeth Smart endured nine months of torture and rape after being abducted from her home as a teenager. Now she hopes her ordeal will help 13-year-old fellow kidnapping survivor Jayme Closs.
The Wisconsin teen was abducted from her home last fall by a kidnapper who killed her parents and held her captive until her escape three months later.
Smart shares advice about moving forward, along with insight from six other kidnapping survivors who provide incredible examples of resilience, in the new Lifetime special, "Smart Justice: The Jayme Closs Case."
"For me, I feel like this was the biggest love letter that we could've given Jayme," Smart told TODAY's Natalie Morales.
Though Smart acknowledged she and Closs share similar kidnapping stories, she said her documentary wasn't intended to be a rehash about what happened to the Wisconsin teen.
"This is about her return. This is about what it's like as a survivor coming back and moving forward," she said.
Smart was 14 years old in 2002 when she was kidnapped at knifepoint by Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, who snatched her from the bedroom of her family’s Salt Lake City home. Smart was raped and tortured nearly every day of the nine months she was held captive.
Mitchell is now serving a life sentence; Barzee was released from a Utah prison last year.
In the Lifetime special, Smart provides insight with "what it takes to go from being a victim to a survivor," she said in an Instagram post featuring the special's other survivors: Gina DeJesus, Katie Beers, Kara Robinson, Alicia Kozakiewicz, Denise Huskins and Sarah Maynard.
"Each one of these women is a fellow abduction survivor and has gone on to triumph over their pasts and reclaim their lives," Smart wrote. "We discuss Jayme Closs and what some of the struggles are that she will face ahead."
Smart met with Closs and her family off camera, but she kept the conversation confidential. She recently has come under fire by some who accuse her of profiting on the teen's tragedy. Closs' aunt criticized the decision to air the program a month before her niece's admitted abductor will be sentenced.
Smart said people have "misunderstood" her intent.
"I think I was probably one of the first people to say to leave the Closs family alone. To let them this time to heal," she said.
Now a parent with three children of her own, Smart admits it’s difficult to fight back instincts as she tries to protect her little ones. But she said she refuses to let her kidnappers take control over her life.
"Being a mom and having children of my own was something that I dreamed about as a little girl," Smart told TODAY. "And Brian Mitchell already took nine months of my life away from me, and I wasn't going to let him take away a family from me as well.
"So is it nerve-wracking? Absolutely. I mean, my little girl, she's so friendly and she wants to talk to everyone," she said, getting emotional.
"And then there's me, and I'm sitting there, 'Oh, what are you doing? You can't talk to these people. I don't know them!' And part of me has to remind myself, you know, it's probably not the strangers that you have to be worried about. It's probably someone that I know that I should be more worried about."
Smart said her overall message for Closs is to try to disconnect herself from her abductor as much as possible.
"He has stolen 88 days of your life away from you. He has stolen your parents away from you. But don't give him a single second more," she said. "You need to move forward. And you need to live your life and be happy and do all of the things that you ever wanted to do because he doesn't deserve a second more of your life."
"Smart Justice: The Jayme Closs Case" airs Saturday on Lifetime.