elizabeth smart

Talking to a reporter in 2013, kidnapping victim and rape survivor Elizabeth Smart recollects the conversation she had with her abductor shortly after he led her into the hills behind her family’s home.

At just 14 years old, Elizabeth was abducted from her Utah home one night in 2002 after a man broke in and forced her out of bed. The intruder warned her that if she attempted to make a noise, he would kill her family while they slept. Not wanting to endanger her loved ones, Elizabeth bravely followed his instructions and was led out of the house at knife point. They then walked through the hills behind the home and into dense woodland, and it was during this time that Elizabeth came to recognise her captor. Just months prior to her kidnap, Elizabeth and her mum had given $5 to this man after they saw him begging on the streets, and they even offered him some work. His name was Brian David Mitchell.

Mitchell took her to a temporary camp built deep into the woods, which is where she met his co-conspirator for the first time: Wanda Ileen Barzee. Elizabeth was led into a tent, where Mitchell began performing a wedding ceremony and announced that the young girl was now his wife. Proceeding this, he pushed her onto the ground and raped her. For the next 9 months until her discovery, Elizabeth was moved across the country while being starved, raped and forced to consume illicit substances on what she described as an almost daily basis.

In March 2003, after convincing her captors to return to Utah, Elizabeth Smart was finally rescued. She had even persuaded her captors to hitch-hike in the hopes that somebody would recognise her as a missing person. One citizen did recognise Mitchell and Barzee suspiciously escorting a young child dressed in robes and a veil. Police immediately responded to the call, and the kidnappers were caught and subsequently arrested. Brian Mitchell, now 63 years old, spent 6 six years in a psychiatric institution and is now serving a life sentence as a federal prisoner. Wanda Barzee, now 70 years old, was given 15 years for her involvement.

No daughter of mine should ever be in a position to be able to write BY GRAND CENTRAL STATION I SAT DOWN AND WEPT, exquisite prose though it might contain. BY GRAND CENTRAL STATION I TORE OFF HIS BALLS would be more like it, I should hope".
—  Angela Carter, in a letter to a friend, on why she was joining the board of Virago.

Black and Latinx teens, on average, are more vulnerable to the type of abuse that provokes a teen to run away from home because they are more likely to live in high-risk environments. But prevailing narratives that these missing children are just runaways leads to less sympathy and media coverage for them when they are reported as missing.

Take the case of Relisha Rudd, an eight year old who went missing in D.C. in 2014. Her case was almost exclusively covered by The Washington Post, and a handful of local and black news outlets. Cable news did not loop the disappearance of Rudd like they did for the highly publicized cases of Natalee Holloway, Elizabeth Smart or Caylee Anthony.

Little mainstream media coverage is contingent upon the belief that black and brown girls are less valuable, says Hillary Potter, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. And she adds the lack of coverage has another dangerous effect: It can perpetuate the idea that black and brown girls aren’t victimized.

Wanda told Clint that he was pulling his punches. This means he wasn’t hitting Natasha as hard as he could have.

All three of them know what he’s capable of doing in hand to hand combat. But Clint also knew that in his right mind, he’d never be able to hurt Natasha the way he did under Loki’s control, he couldn’t allow himself to. And Wanda caught that.

I have learned to smoke because I need something to hold on to. I dare not be without a cigarette in my hand. If I should be looking the other way when the hour of doom is struck, how shall I avoid being turned into stone unless I can remember something to do which will lead me back to the simplicity and safety of daily living?
—  Elizabeth Smart, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept

So it has come to this
insomnia at 3:15 A.M., 
the clock tolling its engine 

like a frog following 
a sundial yet having an electric 
seizure at the quarter hour. 

The business of words keeps me awake. 
I am drinking cocoa, 
that warm brown mama. 

I would like a simple life 
yet all night I am laying 
poems away in a long box. 

It is my immortality box, 
my lay-away plan, 
my coffin. 

All night dark wings 
flopping in my heart. 
Each an ambition bird. 
(…)
(Anne Sexton, The Ambition Bird)