Elizabeth Smart was just 14 years old when she was kidnapped from her own bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002.
In the nine months that followed, Elizabeth was forced into a ‘polygamous’ marriage and repeatedly raped. She was only freed after she was spotted, walking peacefully along a suburban street with her kidnapper in March 2003.
Elizabeth has now spoken out about the experience. And what she has told the world is giving us an insight into why some women who are kidnapped and essentially kept as sex slaves, decide to stop trying to escape; why they stay – seemingly voluntarily -with their captors.
Elizabeth says that the reason she didn’t run away? Was abstinence-only education.
Now for us Australians, that might sound a little unusual. But remember that sex education in some parts of the United States, avoids the teaching of safe sex practices and deliberately DOESN’T make condoms available to students.
Instead? Teenagers are taught to avoid sex at all costs. To ignore their hormones. To control themselves.
While speaking at a forum on human trafficking last week, Elizabeth explained that her abstinence-only education made her feel “so dirty and so filthy” following the rape. Mentioning a teacher who compared sex before marriage to chewing gum, she said:
“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.”
Sex education practices vary from state to state within the USA – but of the 50 states, 26 require that abstinence is “stressed” within sex education curriculums. Additionally, the Guttmacher Institute has reported that “a recent review of 13 commonly used abstinence-only curricula found that 11 had incorrect, misleading or distorted information.”
Students simply aren’t given the information that they need to practice safe sex. And they’re taught that if they do have sex before marriage, that the social – and sometimes spiritual consequences – will be dire.