Thousands of children go missing each year, and in 2002, Elizabeth Smart was one of them. Smart was 14 when she was kidnapped from her Utah bedroom by Brian David Mitchell; she was found by police nine months later, less than 20 miles from her home. Over the past decade, she has been criticized for not attempting to escape, including one time when the pair were stopped by a police officer and Smart didn’t ask for help.
Now 25, Smart hit the media circuit this week to promote her memoir, My Story, which chronicles her horrific abduction. She says that the reason she’s telling “100 percent” of what happened to her in captivity, which included being raped daily, is because she wants to show other victims of sexual abuse that they can lead normal lives afterward.
She also wants readers to understand children’s mindsets in such circumstances. Abused children are often brainwashed by their tormentors, she says. “I was a little girl,” Smart told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I had seen this man successfully kidnap me, he successfully chained me up, he successfully raped me, he successfully did all of these things. What was to say that he wouldn’t kill me…what was to say that he wouldn’t kill my family?”
Let’s be frank: a candid accounting of Smart’s ordeal will no doubt boost sales for her book. But Smart’s interviews also reveal a thoughtful, composed, and well-adjusted young woman with more than just a lurid story to tell.
THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Elizabeth Smart, whose dark cloud has a silver lining for victims of similar abuse.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Good intentions can equal good PR. Smart has spoken about her kidnapping in the past, but it’s taken her more than a decade of reflection to tell her story. That lends credibility to the notion that she’s not just interested in making a buck. Her motivations for speaking now, and in such detail, seem genuine. From a PR perspective, Elizabeth Smart is a victim no more.