Elizabeth Smart to speak at BYU in support of Voices of Courage campaign

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Elizabeth Smart will come to BYU to recount her story and lend her support to the Voices of Courage campaign on Wednesday, March 5.

BYU graduate and activist Elizabeth Smart will speak in the de Jong theater at 7:15 p.m. on March 5. Photo courtesy Women's Services and Resources Office.
BYU alumna and activist Elizabeth Smart will speak in the de Jong theater at 7:15 p.m. on March 5. Photo courtesy Women’s Services and Resources Office.

Elizabeth Smart, famous for her nine-month abduction at the age of 14, will be speaking about her personal experience and how average citizens can affect a change in culture.

Headed by the BYU Women’s Services and Resources, the Voices of Courage campaign’s main focus is to educate men and women on how they can create a culture of non-violence. The campaign is built on the premise that each individual can have an impact on the level of violence in their lives.

Voices of Courage is different from other violence prevention campaigns. LaNae Valentine, director of Women’s Services, explained that the program focuses on attackers rather than on victims.

“In the past, the traditional approach is any kind of sexual assault or violence prevention is to educate the victim, which is usually a female or a child,” Valentine said. “That hasn’t really helped to reduce the amount of violence in the culture. Victims aren’t the ones causing the violence; they just receive it.”

Rebecca Hamilton, a graduate student intern working with Women’s Services, iterated beliefs similar to Valentine’s. She said focusing on victims is synonymous with treating a symptom rather than the disease itself.

“It’s never the victim’s fault, so even educating them doesn’t help,” Hamilton said. “Many women say, ‘Oh I took a self-defense course.’ Well, that’s great, but if you’re raped you’re still raped.”

Many women who are in abusive relationships ask themselves what they are doing wrong, and society generally tells these women that they should get out of abusive relationships, and they should. However, very few programs and campaigns focus on the perpetrators of the crimes.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, women make up to 85 percent of domestically abused victims, and women between the ages of 20–24 have the highest risk of violence with an intimate partner or spouse. Additionally, nearly half of college students report that they have experienced some form of violence or abuse at one point in their life, which leaves speculation as to how many additional attacks go unreported.

Valentine believes our culture is more violent than we realize, but average citizens are well within their means to change it.

“We really do live in a violent culture. There’s violence all around us in our movies and our video games,” Valentine said. “We want people to ask, ‘Are we OK with that? Or do we want to do something about it?'”

Voices of Courage is focused on decreasing the level of tolerable violence in society by speaking up and standing up in situations that seem abusive.

“All of us know victims of abuse, and if we know the victims, then odds are we know the perpetrators,” Valentine said. “So why aren’t we talking more to them? It’s not just putting them in some anger management group; we want the people around that person to say that behavior isn’t okay rather than just telling the victim that they need to get away.”

Both Valentine, Hamilton and those involved with Voices of Courage believe every person can make a difference as long as they are willing to speak up when they see abusive behavior or signs of abuse. Part of Elizabeth Smart’s contribution to this campaign will be her speaking about the “Bystander Effect” and how many people sit back instead of speaking up.

“In Elizabeth Smart’s case there were probably tons of bystanders that could’ve helped her during that whole saga that just didn’t,” Valentine said. “(There were) people that saw her and thought, ‘That’s weird, what’s going on? But hey, it’s none of my business.'”

The Voices of Courage campaign teaches that every person can make a small difference through behavior changes, which can ultimately decrease violence rates by a substantial amount.

More information about Elizabeth Smart’s speaking event and the Voices of Courage campaign can be found on the Women’s Services and Resources webpage.

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