Elizabeth Smart delivers keynote as part of the 6th Annual World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse Conference

Elizabeth Smart

Nearly 400 people were packed into Room 300 at the KSU Center Monday, but you could have heard a pin drop as Elizabeth Smart recalled the harrowing details of her 2002 kidnapping and recovery 10 years ago.

Smart delivered the keynote address at the 6th Annual World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse Conference, a collaboration between the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Georgia and the Department of Social Work and Human Services in the WellStar College of Health and Human Services at Kennesaw State.

In addition to students and alumni, the conference brought together professionals involved in various phases of the child welfare process, from investigation to prosecution.

“What you do every day is the most important thing anyone can do,” Kennesaw State Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Ken Harmon said in his welcoming remarks. “You will change the world because you change children’s lives.”

Smart was 14 years old and looking forward to going on a trip with friends to celebrate graduation from junior high school the night her world was forever changed.

With painstaking detail and poise beyond her years, Smart recalled how Brian David Mitchell, a handyman who had worked at her family’s Salt Lake City home, kidnapped her in the early morning hours of June 5, 2002, as her younger sister lay sleeping beside her.

“He said, ‘I have a knife to your neck. Don’t make a sound. Get up and come with me,’” she said. “I knew I had to do what he said.”

While she was held captive, Smart was threatened and abused on a daily basis. She was rescued on March 12, 2003. Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison in 2011.

“I decided that no matter what happened, if it was within my power, I would live,” she said. “That decision saw me through nine months of a lot.”

And, it’s that resiliency that makes Smart an inspiration for victims and victims’ advocates, Kennesaw State Assistant Professor of Social Work Lisa Johnson said.

“She really epitomizes resiliency,” Johnson said. “She is an incredible inspiration to anyone who has suffered abuse, and is a tremendous example that even when bad things happen, you can go on and lead a successful, happy life.”

As the child protection professionals of tomorrow, about 60 Kennesaw State human services undergrads and social work master’s degree students attended the conference.

“I hope they come out of this (conference) with a renewed passion and sense of purpose,” Johnson said. “We are the voice of these children. We work to prevent things like this from happening, but if it happens, we need to be a safe haven for them.”

--Jennifer Hafer