Smart's triumph may empower other victims

When Elizabeth Smart emerged from a federal courthouse Friday in Salt Lake City, she celebrated not only her own triumph but also the possibility of justice for all victims.

Eight years after Brian David Mitchell kidnapped her and subjected her to near-daily rapes, a jury found Mitchell guilty. 

"I am so thrilled to stand before the people of America today," said Smart, 23, "and give hope to other victims who have not spoken out about what's happened to them."

Advocates for survivors of sexual violence say Smart's willingness to confront her offender under the nation's gaze will help empower other victims and dispel the stigma often associated with rape. Other observers say they have been inspired simply by her courage, poise and strength.

"There is such shame associated with sexual violence, and to have it being talked about so openly and publicly is almost a relief to some," said Heather Stringfellow, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City. "[Smart] held [Mitchell] accountable, and that's a very powerful message."

In Utah, 29 percent of women older than 18 have experienced some type of sexual assault, according to a 2007 survey by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. One in nine sexual assault incidents is reported to the police.

Survivors often fear they won't be believed or that their own behavior will be questioned, said Alana Kindness, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

"I've been really impressed with [Smart's] candor and her ability to express herself and talk openly about her experiences," Kindness said. "It does give an opportunity for people to see that you can talk about it and that you can talk about it and be supported."


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