Elizabeth Smart Says Abstinence Only Education Made Her Kidnapping And Rape Worse

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The link between abstinence only education and rape culture should be clear to anyone with half a brain: if you teach kids that premarital sex takes away their value as human beings, and that only “bad girls” have sex, rape victims are much more likely to blame themselves for their rapes. And if they have no idea what consensual sex is, and sex is surrounded by shame, it will be harder for them to recognize and talk about abuse when it happens.

But don’t take it from me. Take it from Elizabeth Smart, a Utah girl who was kidnapped at age 14, forced into a polygamous “marriage,” and raped repeatedly until she was rescued nine months later. Since then, she has done a lot of advocacy work for victims of rape and sex trafficking via the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. Speaking in a forum about human trafficking at Johns Hopkins University over the weekend, she explained how abstinence only education made her less committed to escaping her captor:

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”

Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

Smart now believes that to be a harmful approach to sex ed, and that kids should be taught that “you will always have value and nothing can change that.” Once again, this seems like it should be obvious. And yet, people like Pam Stenzel are still allowed to go around to public schools telling kids that if they have sex, they are awful people whose lives will be ruined forever. In 2013. This is straight up embarrassing. But with such eloquent advocates as Elizabeth Smart, I have hope yet that we’ll leave this type of fearmongering anti-education in the dark ages where it belongs.

(Via ThinkProgress.org)

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    • Eileen

      [Insert "The Purity Myth"] I definitely think it’s weird the way that some people base women’s value on whether or not they’ve had sex, as if doing it diminishes you each time. It’s not as if a woman who has had sex is incapable of ever having it again – amazingly, as with most physical activities, it’s repeatable and you’re probably going to get better at it as you repeat it. As much as I was really okay with the abstinence education I got in high school – which was, to wit, “Sex is a big deal with a lot of potentially awful consequences, so you should probably wait until you’re mature enough to deal with them” and “The absence of a ‘no’ is not the same as a yes and therefore does not count as consent” – I will always have a problem with the school of thought that values people (women) by their sexual pasts.

      • http://www.facebook.com/karen.valdivia Karen Valdivia

        High five for that approach on abstinence: to wait until you’re mature and confortable enough for it to be a mostly positive experience.

        Having sex doesn’t diminish anyones value as a human being. Being a rapist does. To me, there’s no excuse, no apologies and no forgiveness to rapists.

        We as women have to support each other and the men and the kids who are victims of rape, help them realize the aren’t less worthy of love or a great life because of what happened to them, and stop shaming the victims and giving the the criminals a wild pass.

      • Eileen

        I know, right? Sometimes I feel like the dialogue on sexual activity is a DI-alogue only – there are two choices, “abstain from everything until marriage or you’re a whore,” or “there’s nothing wrong with having sex when you’re 12 years old (and if you’re still a virgin at 18 you’re a loser).” Generally, I think that teenagers are pretty immature and irresponsible (even the mature and responsible ones), and that telling them it’s a good idea to wait isn’t a bad idea. But that’s for their own benefit, because you learn a lot about who you are, what you want, how to stick up for yourself as you get older, not because sex diminishes you as a person or – worst of all – because sex diminishes your worth as a potential spouse.

    • anna

      I was raised in Texas and I surprisingly got a good sex education. They taught us about birth control and told us different methods, not to trust the pull out method, and made us watch videos of women giving birth (enough to scare me away from sex for a long time). None of it made me feel that sex was shameful, just that it was for people more mature than myself. I consider myself lucky, I developed a very healthy relationship with sex from it.
      But do abstinence only educational promoters realize the damage they’re doing to young minds? This is awful, it’s hard enough being a teenage girl without feeling you should be ashamed of your body. It’s especially bad enough to be a young rape victim, no one has any business telling these girls that they are some how damaged, worthless goods now.

      • MyTeacherSucked

        What school did you go to!? My teacher in junior year got in trouble for telling us that condoms were good at preventing pregnancy and STDs if used properly. My health teacher did the whole “having sex outside of marriage is disgusting and you will be worthless and also get an icky STD and die” which was ironic since he had herpes(the cold sore kind). He was also really homophobic and was very into telling us that gay sex would definitely give you AIDS and then you’d die. Every morning he would make us all go through a dress code inspection and if a girl was wearing a skirt or dress she had to go to the front of the room and prove it wasn’t too short. If it was, she was sent to the office and after she left, he would tell our class that she would probably get raped one day on her way home or become pregnant soon.

      • anna

        Oh god, that sounds awful! My health teacher was actually pretty conservative but she got past that when teaching us. I remember her putting condoms on a banana and just like, melting into a puddle of embarrassment that this 60 year old woman with a perm and cheetah leggings KNEW that I had a BODY and would one day have SEX! Oh no!! The secret’s out!!

      • dsar

        You stole that from mean girls, you liberal idiot, no one does that in America, because practically all women are sluts they now hand out condoms like candy.

    • OhOk

      Don’t call what she went through with that monster any sort of “marriage.” A polygamous marriage is null and void when entered, as is marriage to a minor, which Elizabeth was under Utah law. Neither is ever a valid marriage and you should never refer to them as such.

      • anna

        good point, especially since this “marriage” was forced under duress. I think the quotes are there to show it’s not really a marriage though.

    • Tusconian

      I’m really glad she’s saying this. Mostly because in cases like this, I don’t see the blame placed on sick or evil individuals, but with some vague “modern society” that encourages sex. Reading the news, the comments section of situations like Elizabeth Smart’s are blaming the men responsible for wanting sex and not putting faith in *deity of choice*, and women in general for either willingly or somehow being “forced” to be sexual (because no woman has ever wanted to wear skinny jeans and tank tops for comfort or personal preference or even just to look good), which apparently makes them easy target. As if sending men to church and forcing women to wear prairie dresses will get rid of all rape and kidnapping.

      • cori

        If women wearing burkas or other very covering clothing are still getting raped in the middle east, what a woman is wearing means nothing. Rapists rape women because that’s what they do, this has been prooven as a fact over and over, somehow people refuse to believe it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/karen.valdivia Karen Valdivia

        And for the most part, rape isn’t even about sexual pleasure, is about power and dominance over someone else.

      • Tusconian

        These people are presented with these images daily, of little girls being gang raped, of women covered up and toeing their religion to the line, old ladies, faithful married women, etc etc etc. And people will STILL claw at any excuse to either blame the victim or blame society that transforms women into victims, but never want to blame the rapist or the society that transformed him into a rapist. Because thinking that it could happen to someone who wasn’t doing anything wrong, or wasn’t being “led astray” by sex positive ideas, means that it could happen to someone they love, or to them, and that’s just a scary thought.

    • Cori

      I agree. At the very least the material needs to change. I was molested by an older cousin when I was 5 and due to the abstinence only edjucation made me feel dirty and used. I thought of myself as damaged and undesireable, who could love me when the learned I went along. I have a better understanding these days and realize that I was 5, nothing I did or didn’t do was my fault. I think it’s nessicary for abstinence edjucation to talk about consent and even a bit about abuse. Kids aren’t going to bring this up in class and the pain it causes to not address that these things absolutely do not count. I plan on talking to my own daughter in depth about this, because currently schools will let my daughter down. I also was a teen mom and I know the way my sex-ed was I felt like I wasn’t a virgin, so it didn’t really matter purity-wise because I was already damaged. I wish I had known more about ovulation and birth control. I won’t let the same thing happen to my daughter. I don’t want to talk to her about abuse and what it means, but she will never have to go through what I did. I also have a problem with AO because some kids have no plans to avoid sex, those kids needs are ignored. You can’t always tell which kids those are going to be and as adults we should be compelled to help them prepare themselves to make these kinds of choices.

    • swineo

      A valid perception by Elizabeth. Having lived in Utah for 30 years I know where she’s coming from tho I’m not mormon. My problem with this article is that it’s “credited” to “Think Progress.org”. A real POS of an organization. Too bad it didn’t come from somewhere with a little credibility.

    • Amy

      Praise the truth

    • dsar

      She was raped and molested, really I doubt anything would make her feel worse and she is complaing about sex education making rape worse? I smell a fake, she is probably just a liberal looking to exploit her fame as a missing white woman who recieves a lot of privelege for pushing the liberal program of sexualising young women and encouraging women to lose their virginity as young as possible. Actually that will lead to more rapes not less as young women are easily exploited sexually if they are sexually promiscous, which is why so many liberal women report rape and hardly any conservative women do, because they put themselves in a situation where they are much easier to rape

      • Amy L

        Wow, you’re like a crazy person, aren’t you? Look at this person’s other comments on Disqus. You can do that by clicking on he/she/it’s name.

        The scary thing is this is an actual person who moves through the world. It looks like an actual human, but it’s not. It’s a creature. I would almost say a sociopath is less scary than someone like this.

      • dsar

        Are you a lesbian? Lesbians are scary creatures too you know?

      • Amy L

        No matter what I am, I’ll always be human. You’ll be frying in hell like a piece of fried chicken for eternity. Think about it: eternity.

      • dsar

        Haha Really? If you are on this site, you support abortion? And you are telling me I will fry in hell? LOL That is a good one, you really should read the bible before lecturing somebody on whether they go to hell or not, what a fool even on the internet