It’s been 16 years since Elizabeth Smart was abducted and abused for nine months before her rescue in March 2003. Since then, her father, Ed, has organized the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to prevent future crimes against children and to address victims, survivors and their families with resources to empower their future.
The Anti-Human-Trafficking Club hosted Ed Smart as a guest speaker for BYU’s semi-annual Care Week at the JSB auditorium on Nov. 16. Spencer Vogel, the vice president of the Anti-Human-Trafficking Club, said the club’s goal is to end trafficking and to support other organizations with the same purpose.
“We fight against human trafficking by one, raising awareness of the issue and two, supporting organizations like the Elizabeth Smart Foundation,” Vogel said.
Smart explained the events leading up to Elizabeth’s abduction.Elizabeth was taken deep into the woods not far from her Salt Lake City home where she was greeted by Wanda Barzee, who told Elizabeth to undress.
Elizabeth, age 14, was raped continuously until her rescue on March 12, 2003, in Sandy, just 18 miles from her home.
Ed explained the prevalence and the proximity of child trafficking, or modern slavery as he defines it, and how it related to his daughter’s kidnapping.
“People say, ‘Well Elizabeth wasn’t really trafficked’ and yet she was taken across state lines to manipulation and coercion, very much like the typical victims of human trafficking who are taken from one country to another,” Ed said.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Utah has had 161 cases of high-level indicators of human trafficking and 189 cases of moderate level indicators of human trafficking since 2007.
Elizabeth’s kidnapping and consequential abuse exemplify one of many cases of human trafficking happening in Utah.
“I think Elizabeth’s case definitely has the psychological aspects of human trafficking, where she tried to escape but she was afraid, or she was scared to even say anything, which is very common in a lot of victims of human trafficking,” said Azaria Massey, vice president of the Anti-Human-Trafficking Club.
Massey joined the Anti-Human-Trafficking Club after learning about human trafficking through an international development class at BYU.
“Once you learn about human trafficking, it’s really hard not to do anything about it,” she said.
Ed said offenders who are identified are often people we know including our friends, neighbors, church leaders and even our very own family members.
Ed also discussed three-year-olds being trafficked into various forms of abuse, including pornography, as examples of how trafficking hits close to home.
“The problem with this is that in most cases, those little children happened to be abused by family members. And that is a huge problem because, in order to get the latest garbage out there, they generally have to produce garbage,” Ed said.
The Utah Coalition Against Pornography consists of a group of passionate individuals who fight against pornography through education and collaboration. It is one of the many organizations in Utah that raises awareness of the variety of issues caused by pornography, including human trafficking.
“Utah’s Coalition Against Pornography sparked my interest,” said Lana Lichfield, the Anti-Human-Trafficking Club’s education coordinator. “Nobody being trafficked wants to be in that situation. A 100 percent of the girls you survey do not want to be there.”
Ed also said teenage girls, not much older than 14, are being introduced to the sex trafficking industry by their boyfriends.
“Their boyfriends literally talk them into selling themselves,” Ed said. “I don’t think girls could choose to be trafficked but it’s amazing how a boyfriend manipulates them to do that.”
Lichfield also said people have a tendency to believe human trafficking happens in anywhere but their communities — a misconception the Anti-Human Trafficking Club wants to dispel.
During the question and answer session, a crowd member asked how, as an aspiring mother, she could keep her children safe and aware of human trafficking issues without making them fear the world.
Ed responded by saying he and his wife, Lois, had thought about this question many times before. They often wondered if they could have done anything different or more to keep their daughter from being abducted.
Ed also recommended the radKIDS program, a skill-based child’s safety education system designed to strengthen a child’s critical thinking abilities and physical resistance skills in case of possible threatening situations.
“Through our experience, we learned that one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is teaching them to be prepared, not scared,” Ed said.