Elizabeth Smart

April 12th, 2017

Content Warning(s): Rape, Sexual Violence, Kidnapping, Virginity, Rape Culture

Day twelve! April is Sexual Assault Survivor Month! This post will contain sensitive material; please exercise caution if you see a topic that could be upsetting to you. A final caveat: these are written from my limited perspective as a bi woman who was raped. I don't have all the answers and I'm still working through my own journey. There are many other kinds of sexual assault and abuse that are relevant this month. Take time to consider the needs of your diverse fellow survivors. Speak up for them when they can't speak up for themselves, but don't speak over them. Thank you!

Fourteen years ago, Mormon-raised Elizabeth Smart, then aged 14, was kidnapped at knifepoint and raped and abused. I chose today for this article because she was found on the twelfth of March, nine months after she was abducted.

Fourteen years ago, I was also aged 14. I remember when the news stories circulated, my mother made a point of noting that our ages were the same with the implication that "this could be you." I remember that there was a lot of hubbub about how I should learn "self-defense."

In the Broadly interview she gave last fall, Elizabeth finally spoke out against the harmful practices of the Mormon church in teaching the concept of virginity. (Find the article here.) One metaphor she mentions is that a woman who's not a virgin is a chewed-up piece of gum.

Clearly, for someone who's been through the trauma of rape, being compared to an undesirable object only emphasizes the feelings of guilt and worthlessness that shouldn't be ours to carry. And that's the only side of the story being told in abstinence classes. I've always thought sex education needed to be more inclusive in the United States, with abstinence classes being a bane to the health and welfare of young adults. But particularly for someone with devout faith, being sexually assaulted comes with the added shame of, "nobody will marry you." Elizabeth shares that that very thought was one of the first she had while she was being raped. I'm in awe of the fact that she was able to share that painful detail. I'm still not ready to share the worst of my thoughts of what happened during my rape yet. And even worse than the implicit message of "you're worthless for marriage," Brigham Young University even punished two survivors who came forward for violating its no-sex "honor code." As if it were their choice; as if being raped in any way compares to "having sex."

Elizabeth goes on to mention the difference in meaning of the terms "victim" and "survivor" - a topic I've somewhat covered before - and about how difficult it is to come to terms with saying the actual phrase, "I was raped." I can hardly imagine what it must be like in the face of the national spotlights she has to face, but I know that it was hard for me, and that we're not alone in our survivorship. If you could do me a favor: should anyone choose to confide in you that they were raped or sexually assaulted or abused, please look them in the eyes and tell them, "I believe you. I'm so sorry that happened to you." They'll feel safe even if the morals they grew up with tell them otherwise and you may even save their life. Thanks for reading! Tomorrow's topic will be catcalling.


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