Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart says she was assaulted by stranger on airline flight; founds self-defense program


PARK CITY, Utah, Feb. 6, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Elizabeth Smart revealed Thursday she was sexually assaulted by a stranger while aboard an airplane last summer.

“I’ve always felt safe on an airplane,” Smart told Gayle King in a “CBS This Morning” interview conducted at Smart’s Park City home.

“I’ve never been worried, never felt threatened on an airplane. Until now.”

Smart told King about being aboard a flight to Salt Lake City, seated next to a stranger.

“I had been asleep, and all of a sudden I woke up because I felt someone’s hand rubbing between my legs, on my inner thigh. I was shocked, I mean, the last time someone touched me without my say so was when I was kidnapped, and I froze.”

Smart, 32, was kidnapped at age 14, and assaulted by Brian David Mitchell until she was recognized and rescued by police nine months later. She has dedicated her career to being a child-safety and survivor advocate.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Smart told King, reliving the moment on the airplane flight. “And I speak to other women about it. I say, ‘It’s OK to say no,’ and ‘It’s OK to take care of yourself and be safe.’ I kept saying to myself, ‘You’re Elizabeth Smart. You should know what to do.’ I jerked away, and I expected the man to jerk his hand away, to apologize, to give me some kind of reason why he was touching me.”

He did nothing, Smart said.

“I called up my husband said ‘Do I just have a big badge on my head that says easy prey or victim? Because I am sick of it.”

Smart said that later, she filed an online report with the carrier, Delta, and an investigation involving the FBI is ongoing.

“It’s not Delta’s fault,” said Smart. “There was this man, this man made a decision. But I wanted Delta to know, and they were appalled, they offered to help as much as they could, to back me up as far as I wanted to take this…. I don’t want him to be preying on other girls.”

Smart said her husband, Matthew Gilmour, encouraged her to meet with a family friend trained in self-defense. When Gilmour held his wife of nearly seven years in various holds suggested by the expert, Smart was surprised to realize she could not escape his grasp, she told King.

“It just kind of hit me in the gut that we’re not doing enough. We’re not doing enough. I wanted to create a self-defense class for women and girls.”

Smart has since worked with law enforcement officers and martial artists to create a program called Smart Defense, currently being taught in Utah with plans to expand to other states in the near future, she said. To read more, click here.

King also asked Smart about whether she has been able to move on from the brutal assaults she suffered as a young teen.

Smart said as the happily married mother of three young children, she has welcomed intimacy into her life, and that rape has nothing to do with love.

“I think what a lot of people don’t understand is there’s a big difference between rape and sexual assault, and loving and gentle and consensual — most importantly — intimacy. There is a difference. I know the difference. I’ve experienced both.”

Smart also said she doesn’t know if self-defense training could have saved her 14-year-old self from being kidnapped from her Salt Lake City bench area bedroom, but it might have helped her fight back during the three-mile hike to a hidden shelter Mitchell and then-wife Wanda Barzee had constructed on a canyon hillside.

” … there’s a part of me that thinks had I had this training beforehand, I feel like I would have taken that opportunity during those three miles,” Smart told King. “I think I would have had that confidence to try.”

Smart said she hopes teenagers will take the training.

“… We are trying to train them to give themselves an opportunity to get away.”


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