Elizabeth Smart, the young woman from Utah who made headlines around the world after she was kidnapped as a teen and held captive for nine months, is speaking out against abstinence-only education.
She drew from her own experience while speaking at a recent forum on human trafficking at Johns Hopkins University and said she understood why some kidnapping victims might not run away from their captors after being raped. Smart, 25, said that after her own rape she “felt so dirty and so filthy.”
Smart said she grew up in a Mormon family and was taught through abstinence-only education that a person whose virginity was lost before marriage was considered worthless. She spoke to the crowd about a school teacher who urged students against premarital sex and compared women who had sex before their wedding nights to chewing gum.
“I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”
Smart’s remarks come as some Republican lawmakers, including in Arkansas, Texas and North Dakota, are pushing legislation that would defund comprehensive sex-ed programs for at-risk teens.
In 2002, Smart—then 14-years-old—was abducted at knifepoint from her bedroom in Salt Lake City. She was held captive and raped but was found alive nine months later. Her kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell, was sentenced to life behind bars.
Smart, who got married last year, has since started the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which helps promote awareness about abduction.