Elizabeth Smart has opened up about how much she shared with her parents in the wake of her brutal ordeal in 2002 when she endured nine months of daily torture and rape after being kidnapped as a teen.
Smart, 33, has since become an advocate for child safety and survivors of kidnapping and sexual abuse, but following her 2003 rescue from kidnappers Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, she admittedly did not want to talk about it in detail with her parents.
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"The truth is I never sat them all down and had a 'tell all' experience with them," Smart wrote on Instagram Monday. "Honestly when I got home I didn’t want anyone to know what had happened I was embarrassed and ashamed.
"I was brought to an advocacy center where I had to disclose much of what happened to two professionals and they in turn relayed much of what happened to my parents. But I don’t think my parents ever heard in detail what happened from my own lips until my court appearance almost a decade later."
Smart's case made national headlines when she was rescued in 2003 in Sandy, Utah, after witnesses recognized Mitchell from an episode of "America's Most Wanted." Mitchell had abducted her at knifepoint from the bedroom of her family's Salt Lake City home.
He is now serving a life sentence, while Barzee was released from a Utah prison in 2018.
"I have so many thoughts and feelings on this topic, first and foremost I never want anyone to compare their experiences to me, we are all different and unique and we can never accurately compare our experiences to someone else’s," Smart wrote. "I also want to point out my case was highly publicized, everyone already knew crimes were committed against me. So it didn’t take me coming forward and disclosing the extent of my abuse to multiple people before my captors were taken into custody. Nor did I have people doubt me."
Smart also shared in another Instagram post Monday why she decided to publicly reveal the details of the abuse she endured after initially wanting to avoid it.
"I’ve noticed a lot of comments about dealing with the shame and embarrassment that I felt after I was rescued and didn’t want to tell anyone the details about what happened," she wrote. "For years if a discussion or a situation occurred that would seem a natural opener to talking about what happened I generally side stepped it. In my mind what had happened was something that I hated and never wanted to acknowledge so I just avoided thinking/talking about it.
"But I remember one day my dad came to me and started discussing the charges Brian Mitchell was going to be charged with, and I felt anger, because of all the charges he was faced with none of them included the worst things he did to me. It was ultimately in that moment that I stopped caring and worrying about the shame and embarrassment that I felt."
Speaking out about what happened to her ended up being an empowering moment.
"If someone judged me for what happened, in my mind I came to the conclusion that they did not matter and clearly were not worth my time," she wrote. "Since then I became more and more involved in advocacy and as I went out I realized I was not alone in being a victim of rape and sexual abuse. This more than anything made me want to do more, change the culture, speak and share my story if it helped others. In my eyes the first step towards changing the culture of how we treat victims and survivors is to start by believing them!"
The mother of three has created a campaign for her Elizabeth Smart Foundation called #WeBelieveYou that encourages people to believe victims of sexual violence and donate to raise funds to help survivors.
Smart hopes that by sharing her own struggles with speaking out about her story, including questions about why she didn't just run away from her captors, she can educate others about how to support survivors of sexual violence.
"For these and many other reasons I want Victim’s to know that #Ibelieveyou and I hope that as all of us move forward when we come across Victim’s and survivors our first reaction is to believe them!" she wrote on Instagram. "Should we have friends or family disclose to us just listen, they don’t owe us answers to our questions or curiosities. Love them, support them, and be their friend."
Seventeen years after her rescue, Smart continues to express her thanks for those who helped find her.
"For my seventh day posting about gratitude I feel I can not go without saying thank you to every person who searched for me, prayed for me, followed my story, and did everything they could to bring me home safely!" she wrote on Instagram Sunday. "I shudder to think what my life would be like if it weren’t for good everyday people! Would I still be with my captors? Would I even be alive? How could I survive so long if I were still with them? All terrifying thoughts that I will be so eternally grateful that I never had to find out.
"My life is absolutely different than I ever imagined it to be, even from the day after I got home when this photo was taken my life is still drastically different than I imagined it to be. However I also know I wouldn’t be where I am today without everything that happened and so for that too I am grateful! During this season of holidays and giving I wish you all the joy, peace, and happiness each one of us deserves! God bless you all!!"