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Elizabeth Smart speaks at BYU after ‘Me Too’ movement spreads on social media

October 21, 2017 GMT

The first “Smart Talks” forum encouraged attendees to spread awareness about sexual abuse to help enact change.

“Our intention is to see this go across the country, and it will have great impact,” Ed Smart, the father of kidnapping and sexual assault survivor Elizabeth Smart, said Friday at the first forum.

“Smart Talks: I’ve Never Told Anyone,” included sexual abuse survivors such as Elizabeth Smart and Deondra Brown, a member of the music group The 5 Browns and a founder of The Foundation for Survivors of Abuse. The forum was part of Brigham Young University’s Voices of Courage campaign, which had events throughout the week at BYU to raise awareness about sexual assault.

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The forum came a few days after the “Me Too” campaign launched across social media, asking women who have experienced sexual assault and harassment to write about their experiences using #MeToo to spread awareness on the issue.

Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her Utah home 15 years ago and rescued nine months later, said she’s been approached by many survivors who share their stories of abuse with her and mentioned they’ve never told anyone.

Smart called those who have been sexually abused by someone they know courageous.

“The people who are abused by strangers are lucky because they don’t have to go home at night and see their abuser,” she said.

Alyson Larsen, a Rape Aggression Defense trainer, encouraged people to learn how to make noise if someone is trying to hurt them so they don’t default to freezing if they are being attacked. She also encouraged audience members to tell someone where they are going, who they will be with and when they plan to return home when they leave.

“You have to understand you are important enough to tell somebody when you are going to be home,” Larsen said.

For Smart, her survival method was to freeze up and not fight when she was being abused.

Brooks Keeshin, a child abuse pediatrician and member of the forum’s panel, said that child sexual abuse impacts all demographics.

He said people’s minds can shut down when they experience high levels of stress and they can disassociate themselves from what is happening to them. He said that means survivors of abuse might not be able to recall specific details or provide a play-by-play of what happened to them.

He spoke in favor of educating children in the school system about abuse, since it won’t necessarily happen in homes where abuse occurs. He said when someone reports an abuse to a family member and nothing is done about it, it’s a double betrayal.

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Brown recalled going on stage a week after news of her abuse came out several years ago. She was paranoid as her family prepared to perform, but received a standing ovation from the moment the performers stepped foot on the stage.

“There was something in that applause I will never forget that is a testament to the true character of people,” Brown said.

Smart said change will come about as more people talk and make noise about sexual assault.