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'No matter how dark of a place you've been, you can come back': Elizabeth Smart creates new self-defense program

Posted at 6:52 PM, Feb 07, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — After surviving kidnapping and rape, Elizabeth Smart said she learned to find light in her life and wants to inspire other victims to do the same.

The first self defense class created by Smart and her team was held Friday.

The program is called “Smart Defense,” and it is designed to specifically help women and girls learn how to protect themselves.

Smart wants other girls to feel empowered and confident, and to feel like they can protect themselves — something she did not feel when she said a man sexually assaulted her last summer.

“For me to be kidnapped and raped, I mean more times than I can count,” Smart said, “that was pretty destructive. I mean, I felt like I was ruined. I felt like I was destroyed.”

Those feelings surfaced again while Smart sat next to the window on a Delta flight from Philadelphia to Georgia on July 19.

Smart’s final destination was home, here in Salt Lake City.

During her flight, Smart said she had fallen asleep.

“I woke up with a shock, because the last time somebody touched me inappropriately while I was sleeping was when I was kidnapped,” Smart said. “The first thought in my mind was: 'Not again.'”

Smart said the man sitting next to her was rubbing her inner thigh and when she woke up, he did not apologize — Smart froze.

“It’s the person next to you blocking the way out, you don’t really want to expose any part of your body to them,” said Smart.

Raising her hand to ask for help would leave the side of her body exposed. Smart said she had no idea how to let the flight attendant know she was being sexually assaulted.

Leaving the airport, Smart felt helpless.

“I felt like if he was willing to do this to me, what else is he doing?” said Smart.

After talking with her husband, Smart was determined to have self defense training and to create a program called “Smart Defense” for women and girls to do the same.

“When someone grabs you and I was able to break free with fairly simple moves, it was really empowering for me,” Smart said.

Empowerment, she hopes other survivors can feel.

“No matter how dark of a place that you’ve been in, it is possible to come back,” she said. “It’s hard, but it’s possible. And it’s not only possible, it’s worth it."

Smart Defense trainers have developed their program through their experience with various martial arts and law enforcement.

As far as the man on the airplane goes, Smart said she notified Delta and the FBI is conducting an investigation.