Elizabeth Smart says she was sexually assaulted on an airplane

The child safety advocate, who survived a brutal kidnapping ordeal as a teenager, says she was sexually assaulted on a Delta flight last summer.

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
SUBSCRIBE
/ Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

Child safety advocate and kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart says she was sexually assaulted on an airplane while flying home to Utah last summer.

Smart, 32, who endured nine months of daily torture and rape when she was kidnapped at knifepoint as a teen in 2002, told "CBS This Morning" that she was asleep on a Delta flight when she felt the man next to her rubbing her inner thigh.

"Seriously again?" she told NBC News in a phone interview. "Can this really be happening to me again? Do I have a big sign across my forehead that says 'victim?' How is this happening to me again?"

Smart says she froze up when it happened, and the man did not apologize or say anything.

"I'm Elizabeth Smart," she said. "I should know what to do, and at that moment I didn't know what to do."

She filed a complaint with Delta but does not blame the airline.

"Following her flight, Elizabeth Smart contacted Delta and shared that another passenger had acted inappropriately towards her,'' Delta said in a statement to NBC News.

"We took the matter seriously and have continued to cooperate with Ms. Smart and the appropriate authorities as the matter is investigated. Delta does not tolerate passenger misconduct towards other customers or Delta employees.”

Smart said she also contacted the FBI. The bureau would not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation to NBC News.

The incident is part of a larger trend, as sexual assaults on flights have increased 66% over a three-year period, according to the federal government.

"What ultimately drove me to share this story in the public spotlight and put it out there is because I have met so many other women, and this experience for me just really reminded me how vulnerable we all are as women, as girls," Smart told NBC News.

Smart was 14 in 2002 when she was kidnapped by Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, who snatched her from the bedroom of her family’s Salt Lake City home.

Mitchell is now serving a life sentence, while Barzee was released from a Utah prison in 2018.

In the wake of the ordeal, Smart has become an advocate for child safety and survivors of kidnapping and sexual abuse.

The mother of three said the incident on the plane motivated her to create a self-defense program in Utah for women and girls called Smart Defense.

"It doesn't matter who you are, what you're wearing. None of those things matter if you are abused or taken advantage of," she said. "It's not your fault, and you have every right to defend yourself, to take care of yourself, to do what you need to do to stay safe."