It's been 15 years since Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her Salt Lake City home at the age of 14, and this week she's in the Milwaukee area to speak at the 40th anniversary luncheon for The Women's Center, an organization dedicated to helping those affected by domestic violence and sexual assault in Southeast Wisconsin.
Smart plans to talk to the group about the time she was held captive, but said more importantly she wants them to walk away with a sense of hope.
"We really have such limited control over what happens to us, but we do have control over what we do next," Smart said.
Smart was kidnapped in 2002 and her abductor held a knife to her throat when she was in bed. She was raped multiple times a day and told she would die if she tried to escape. Smart was with her captors for nine months before being rescued.
"When I got home I think I swore up and down, I'm never talking about this, I'm never writing a book. I just want it to go away. I want to continue on with my life. I just want to be me," Smart said.
It took awhile, but Smart said once she accepted her new normal she realized sharing her story was a must.
"I mean I don't want to go through it again,” she said. “I wouldn't say please sign me up that's a nine month vacation. Let me do it again. I would never ever say that, but I'm grateful for it because of what it taught me."
The experience gave her a voice she wouldn't have otherwise.
"It's really important for people to share their stories because the truth is is that it happens everywhere," she said.
Today Smart is an author, speaker and advocate. Her greatest accomplishment?
"My family, definitely," she said.
Smart hopes continuing to share her story let's other survivors know they're not alone.
"No matter what happens you can find happiness again and you can move forward and you can go on to have a wonderful life."
Smart encourages anyone who is a victim of abuse or violence to tell someone. The Women's Center's 24-hour hotline is 262-542-3828 or toll-free 888-542-3828.
Wednesday's luncheon is sold out.
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