Elizabeth Smart was just 14 years old when her harrowing story of abduction and sexual assault made headlines. Now she’s a mother with three children of her own, and she’s facing the difficult task of sharing that past with them.
The child safety activist and author, who wrapped up a surprising stint on “The Masked Dancer” Wednesday night, says that the process isn’t easy, but she’d “never want to hide” her ordeal from them.
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The 33-year-old and her husband, Matthew Gilmour, are parents to a 3-year-old son, James, and two daughters, Olivia, 2, and Chloé, 5. So far, it’s only been the latter of them who has come to her with questions about her past.
"Occasionally, I'm doing a presentation or I'm on a Zoom call, and she doesn't understand,” Smart explained during an interview with E! News. “So she asked me, 'Why?' And as her questions come up, that is how I gauge how much to tell my daughter."
And she knows it’s only a matter of time before her others come to her with questions of their own.
"With all my children, really, I certainly never want to hide what happened in the past, because every single one of us has a past,” Smart continued. “Every single one of us has had something happen in our lives. It's unrealistic to think that we will all just have a perfect life. We will all face hardships and struggles, in whatever form that may be, and so I have begun to speak to her as she asked questions.”
It's a process she’s figuring out as she goes along.
“But with that being said, it's not all at once,” she added. “And it's age-appropriate, to the best of my ability."
If there’s anyone qualified to navigate such a complicated topic with young children, it’s Smart.
It was in June 2002 that, as a young teen, she was kidnapped at knifepoint from her home in Salt Lake City. She spent the following nine months held captive, repeatedly raped and living in fear for her life before police rescued her. Her case gripped the nation and changed the course of her life.
Smart used her experience as motivation to fight for other survivors and individuals who are in danger of becoming victims. She’s gone before Congress to support legislation targeting sexual predators, spoken out about human trafficking, written a book about her own story and another focused on helping others heal and she runs a nonprofit organization to continue her outreach called the Elizabeth Smart Foundation.
Last year, she took to Instagram to help other parents communicate about difficult safety topics with their own children.
This is the guidance she shared:
- Make sure your child knows you love them unconditionally!
- Talk about their worries, concerns, fears and help them to understand that you will have their back even if they get in trouble for doing the right thing (defending themselves anywhere)
- Heaven forbid anything should happen but if it does YOU BELIEVE THEM!!!!!!
- It is NOT their fault!
But despite her personal experience, she also asked her followers to help her.
“These are a pretty safe conversations to begin with,” she wrote alongside a photo of herself and her trio of kids. “I don’t have older children yet and so I’m still working on figuring out how to progress these conversations as they get older. If you have suggestions please feel free to comment! Generally speaking I can use all the help I can get.”