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Elizabeth Smart Opens Up About Being Sexually Assaulted On A Plane Last Year: ‘I Froze’

The incident inspired Elizabeth Smart to create a self-defense program where other girls and women can learn to protect themselves.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt

Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped as a child and went on to become an advocate for child safety, recently revealed that she was sexually assaulted while riding a plane last summer.

Smart, 32, detailed the incident during an interview with “CBS This Morning” that aired Thursday. Speaking to anchor Gayle King, Smart said that she was on a Delta flight into Salt Lake City, Utah when she woke up to find that the man who was seated next to her was touching her inappropriately.

“I had been asleep and, all of a sudden, I woke up because I felt someone's hand rubbing in between my legs, on my inner thigh,” she recalled. “I was shocked. I mean, the last time someone touched me without my say-so was when I was kidnapped. And I froze. I didn't know what to do.”

Before that incident, she had never felt “worried” or “threatened” while on a plane, Smart said.

Elizabeth Smart G

In 2002, Smart, who was 14 years old at the time, was kidnapped from her home in the dead of night by Brian David Mitchell, an unemployed drifter who’d previously been hired to work on the Smart family home. Mitchell and his accomplice, Wanda Barzee, held Smart against her will for nine months before she was spotted and rescued, and during that time she was repeatedly threatened and raped. Mitchell is serving a life sentence, while Barzee was released in 2018.

Smart told “CBS This Morning” that, as a kidnapping and sexual assault survivor, she was surprised by her own reaction to her assault last year.

“I kept saying to myself, 'You’re Elizabeth Smart. You should know what to do.'”

After Smart woke up, the man did not apologize or even acknowledge what he had done, Smart said. She reported what had happened to the airline by filing a complaint online, and she said that they were, in response, “apologetic” and “appalled” by the incident. She also followed up with the FBI, and there is now an open investigation into the matter.

When asked if she plans to press charges against the man who assaulted her, Smart replied, “I don’t want him to be preying on other girls.”

The traumatic experience was enough to propel Smart to try and learn self-defense techniques, with the help of her husband, which then inspired her to take further action by creating a self-defense class that would help other girls and women learn how to defend themselves in dangerous situations.

Smart collaborated with law enforcement officers and martial artists to create her program, “Smart Defense,” according to CBS News. Among the many girls and women who have taken Smart Defense classes is Smart’s mother, Lois Smart, who called her daughter “remarkable” for everything she’s accomplished.

Smart Defense classes are currently only available in the Salt Lake City area, but there are plans to expand throughout the nation in the future, according to their website.

While Smart told “CBS This Morning” that she does not believe that the training she’s recently received would have prevented her from getting kidnapped in the first place, she did speculate that it may have helped her escape when her captors led her on a three-mile hike to their campsite hidden in the woods.

“There’s a part of me that thinks had I had this kind of training beforehand, I feel like I would have taken that opportunity during those three miles somewhere,” she said. “I think I would have had that confidence to try.”