After kidnapping and sex abuse victim Elizabeth Smart was reunited with her family, her mom gave her advice that she hopes all survivors of child sex abuse live by.
"The best punishment that you could ever give him is to be happy, to follow your dreams and do exactly what you want to do," said Smart, of her abuser. "No matter how bad there is out there, there's so much more good."
Smart, who at 14 was abducted from her home in 2002, sexually abused and held in captivity for nine months, was the featured speaker Tuesday at Penn State's Child Sex Abuse Conference. Smart shared her story for the crowd of more than 400 people and said Penn State has an "incredible opportunity to not only change the community but also the nation."
The conference, which featured academic and clinical experts in child sex abuse, was organized in the aftermath of Jerry Sandusky's arrest on child abuse charges. Sandusky was found to have abused children in campus athletic facilities, of which he continued to have access even after he retired.
Smart was kidnapped late at night in June 2002 and taken to a makeshift camp her abductor had set up. The first day there, he pronounced her his wife and he raped her.
"I didn't feel like a whole person," Smart said. "I sat there and wondered 'Who could ever love me again after this?' "
As she sorted out what happened, she said she came to realize her family would always love her, and that is what kept going throughout the ordeal, no matter how long it would take.
Smart was reunited with her family in March 2003, after she and her abductors returned to Utah from California. Two people noticed them and called police.
She said police took her into custody and interviewed her. She answered the questions the way her abductors had told her to, she said, until the last question, when police asked her if she was Smart.
"The majority of me just wanted to scream out 'Yes,' " she said, saying she was at first reluctant because of the daily threats from her captors.
Her abductor is serving a life sentence.
Since her ordeal, Smart has taken on advocating for the a child's safety program called radKIDS. She said she hopes the people attending the conference consider bringing the safety program to their communities, including at Penn State and Centre County.
The sessions on Tuesday included intervention and treatment for child victims. In his closing remarks, Penn State president Rodney Erickson reiterated the university's commitment to raising awareness and stamping out child sex abuse.
He said he hopes the conference turns into an annual event.
Penn State trustee Marianne Alexander attended the conference both days. She felt gratified that the speakers recognized Penn State's contributions in raising awareness child sex abuse, and she said, "We now own this issue in a lot of people's minds."
"The good thing about this is we have some power to do some good things in this world about this problem," said Alexander, of Ellicott City, Md., who's one of the alumni-elected trustees.
State College attorney Andrew Shubin also attended the two-day conference. He is one of the attorneys representing several victims in the Sandusky case.
"The sheer number of abuse incidents is staggering and the consequences of child sexual abuse to victims, their families, friends and communities is catastrophic," he said. "The presenters demonstrated that our institutions must begin to treat child sexual abuse as nothing less than an urgent public health crisis."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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