Kidnapping Survivor Elizabeth Smart Says She Was Sexually Assaulted On Plane

She’s now created a self-defense program to empower and teach females to protect themselves.

February 07, 2020

Elizabeth Smart [Frederick M. Brown/Getty]

By: Aaron Rasmussen

Kidnapping and sexual assault survivor Elizabeth Smart says she was allegedly assaulted aboard a flight to Utah last summer.

"I've always felt safe on an airplane. I've never been worried. I've never felt threatened on an airplane until now," Smart said on CBS This Morning.

Smart, 32, claimed a male passenger seated next to her began touching her after she had dozed off.

"I had been asleep and all of a sudden I woke up because I felt someone's hand rubbing in between my legs on my inner thigh," she said during the Feb. 6 interview.

"I was shocked,” she continued. “I mean the last time someone touched me without my say so was when I was kidnapped. And I froze. I didn't know what to do."

Smart was 14 when street preacher Brian David Mitchell kidnapped her at knifepoint from her family’s home in June 2002. Before Smart’s rescue, Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, held her captive over a nine-month period in makeshift camps around the Salt Lake City area.

Mitchell, 66, was sentenced to life behind bars after he was convicted on charges of kidnapping and rape. Barzee, 74, pleaded guilty to kidnapping, and was released from prison in September 2018 after serving a total of 15 years in prison. She is currently on parole.

During the airplane ordeal, Smart said she was temporarily paralyzed. "I kept saying to myself, 'You're Elizabeth Smart. You should know what to do,’” she recalled thinking at the time.

Smart later reported the incident to Delta and the FBI, and an investigation is ongoing.

"It's not Delta's fault. I mean it was this man," she said. "This man made a decision. But I wanted Delta to know … And they were very, you know, they were appalled … they offered to help as much as they could to back me up as far as I wanted to take this."

According to the New York Times, experts say violent sexual assault is the most underreported crime, and incidents aboard planes often go under-investigated because of the jurisdictional and bureaucratic confusion over who should handle such issues.

“For victims and survivors, every barrier to making this report increases the likelihood that they just will give up and not report,” Laura Palumbo, communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, told the publication.

Smart, a child safety advocate and mom of three, has decided to use her harrowing experience as motivation to empower others. She recently launched Smart Defense, a self-defense class designed to help girls and women develop the tools necessary to protect themselves against predators.

While Smart admitted self-defense classes probably would not have prevented her abduction as a teen, there’s a chance the training may have helped.

“There was over three miles worth of terrain that we had to cross before he got me to that hidden campsite. And as we've gone through this training,” Smart said, “there is a part of me that thinks had I had this kind of training beforehand … I feel like I would've taken that opportunity during those three miles somewhere … I think I would've had that confidence to try."

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