Elizabeth Smart told a rapt audience at the Saint Martins University Marcus Pavilion that there is a simple lesson to be learned from her 2002 abduction from her Salt Lake City bedroom, and her rescue nine months later.
None of us are perfect. None of us has perfect lives, said Smart, who was 14 when she was taken.
We all have our trials in life, and no one can understand exactly how we feel, she added Thursday. But, no matter how bad life gets, it will always get equally as good.
Today Smart, 25, lives happily with her husband in Utah. She formerly worked as a correspondent for Good Morning America and now travels the country, appearing at speaking engagements through her work with the Elizabeth Smart Foundation.
Before her noontime speech, Smart met with Melissa Baum, mother of missing McCleary girl Lindsey Baum. Lindsey was 10 when she went missing not two blocks from the McCleary police station as she walked home from a friends home June 26, 2009. She hasnt been found.
Melissa Baums eyes welled with tears as she embraced Smart before the event, which was sponsored by the Rotary Clubs of Thurston County. It was a little more emotional when she turned around than I thought it would be, Baum said of meeting Smart.
Baum said Smarts presence gives her hope that her daughter might someday be found and that when she is found, shes not going to be destroyed.
Smart joined local human-trafficking survivor Rani Hong to share a message of hope at Thursdays event, and to share how they overcame grueling circumstances to live joyful, meaningful lives. Both said they were at Saint Martins to raise awareness about how parents and others can be more vigilant and aware of the dangers of human traffickers, abductors and child abusers.
It really does happen in our community, Hong said of human trafficking. We know that trafficking victims are being brought over the border into Washington. Hong was 7 when she was abducted from her village in southern India, and sold by a broker into child slavery. She eventually was trafficked through Canada into Washington. She said that finally, after authorities intervened, she was adopted into a loving home in Olympia.
Hong works to bring global awareness to the worldwide problem of human trafficking through her work with the Olympia-based organization she founded, The Tronie Foundation. Hong said she has helped pass legislation to fight human trafficking that has been used as a model in other states. She also serves as the United Nations special adviser to the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking. Every year, human traffickers bring about 14,500 children into the United States to live lives of servitude, she said.
I speak for those without a voice, for the millions of children that are sold into slavery, Hong said.
Smart and Hong spoke directly about the horrors of being abducted.
Smart, whose ordeal made headlines nationwide, said that the worst time in my life is probably a time that you all know.
She spoke of her abductor forcing her to marry him in a bizarre ceremony in a tent. She also spoke of being raped, and of being threatened with death if she resisted or tried to escape. Smarts abductor, Brian David Mitchell, is serving a life sentence in a federal prison.
Smart said that during her captivity, she at first felt like the children who are killed by their abductors are the lucky ones, because they dont have to feel like their soul has been crushed. But, Smart added, thoughts of again seeing her loving family, and in particular her mother, gave her hope. She said she remembered her mothers words that she would always love her, no matter what, and those words stayed with me.
I decided I would survive no matter what it took, Smart said.
Smart said she was rescued because an alert citizen saw her in public, thought she recognized her and called police.
It was because of people like you who had the initiative to pick up the phone and call police and say, I think I just saw Elizabeth Smart, she said. Smart was rescued March 12, 2003, in Sandy, Utah, about 18 miles from her home. She described how happy she was to see police car after police car arrive at her abductors residence.
Smart said advice she received from a friendly woman in a hospital after her rescue have stuck with her. The woman told her that what her abductor did was wicked and evil, and that the worst punishment you can give him is to be happy.
She was right, Smart told the crowd. I made up my mind not to give him another second of my life.
Smart then repeated themes from her introductory remarks.
We all have trials; we all have rough spots in life, she said. No matter how bad life is or how hard it is to get out of bed, remember, something better will happen.
Smart urged the audience to keep giving thoughts and prayers to the Baum family.
If you see something suspicious or not quite right, make a phone call, because you never know whose life you might be saving, she said.
Hongs words about how she overcame being taken from her family and being sold into slavery echoed Smarts. She said that after she was adopted in Olympia, she received support from the entire community, including the Rotary Club, which awarded her a scholarship to attend South Puget Sound Community College.
I made a choice, that Im going to live for tomorrow, Hong said. Tomorrow is going to be different.
Thursdays event was part of a daylong child-trafficking awareness fair at Saint Martins that brought leaders and law enforcement together. Booths set up around the pavilion offered services and tools to protect children against exploitation, including fingerprinting, retina scans and Crime Stoppers My Child ID kits.
Smart and Hong were scheduled to give a keynote address at 7 a.m. at Saint Martins, retelling their stories.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445