Elizabeth Smart and family need to tell their story

By and

The first TV movie about the Elizabeth Smart abduction airs this Sunday, Nov. 9, on CBS. Will you be watching? Chances are, most Utahns will tune in to the two-hour drama even though they feel that media reproductions of Smart’s abduction and personal interviews with reporters are detrimental to her well-being. Yet, in reality, her speaking out may actually be a source of healing for both her and her family and for others who have been abducted and their families.

Think back to when you were 14 years old. Imagine you were abducted from your room in the middle of the night by a man your parents had once hired to do some work on the house. You are forced to wander from place to place with two complete strangers, lose your identity and adopt a new way of life. You try to escape, but are caught and told that the next time you attempt to flee, your family will be killed. You suffer untold physical and emotional abuse. Eventually you are found, but the road to recovery will be a long and difficult one.

Would you not have a story to tell? Would you not want the world to know what really happened?

Or imagine you are the parents of such a child. You are awakened in the middle of the night and informed that your greatest nightmare has become a reality: Your child has been kidnapped and you do not know where to begin looking for her. Even worse, the police seem as dumbfounded as you do. You endure nine months of indescribable anguish until one spring afternoon when you receive a telephone call informing you that your daughter has been found. You are cautiously optimistic-you want to see her and hold her in your arms before you believe it to be true.

Would you not want to share your story with the rest of the world? Would you not want it to be told the right way before it becomes distorted by a media hungry for such stories, one that will tell your story regardless of your wishes?

I certainly would. So I am not hopping on the bandwagon that is questioning the Smarts’ motives in telling their story and allowing their daughter Elizabeth to do the same. In a recent poll of Utah residents conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, 67 percent of those polled said they believe it is a bad thing for Elizabeth Smart to have continued media exposure. The poll was conducted after the Smarts appeared on “Dateline NBC,” “Larry King Live” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and one day before the release of their book regarding the kidnapping.

But who is the rest of the world to criticize a family that forged ahead in the face of adversity and did not lose hope when most people thought it was a lost cause? Who are we to know what is best for Elizabeth? And does it really matter what everybody else thinks? Are the Smarts going to stop talking now that the majority of their home state disagrees with their candor and questions their intentions?

Finally, there is a story worth telling-and Utahns want them to keep quiet. NBC news anchor Katie Couric, who visited the Smarts for a day in October to film the “Dateline” special, recognized that people would be skeptical about the Smarts’ decision to write a book and publicly relive their story. “They told me they did so as an affirmation of their faith,” she said, “that Elizabeth’s return shows the world that prayers do get answered and that miracles do happen.”

It is a most unusual case when one considers that 98 percent of abducted children are dead within 30 days. Call it what you want, but the Smarts are labeling it a miracle and they want the rest of the world to know about it-to be reminded of what can happen when a city comes together and faith enters into the picture. The Smarts’ story can help others “in their own personal travails,” Couric added.

But is it detrimental for Elizabeth to relive her traumatic experience through the retelling of it to the rest of the world?

According to Scott Whittle, clinical director of the residential and day treatment adolescent psychiatric program for Primary Children’s Medical Center, it is not. He recently told The Salt Lake Tribune that even though TV movies and interviews with Elizabeth may be seen by millions of people, “there is little indication that just talking about it is traumatizing.” In fact, “simply discussing it is usually used as a form of recovery,” he said.

Lois Smart told Couric, “To see Elizabeth today is to see a rebirth-the tragic child on the poster transformed into a disarmingly normal teenager.” The Elizabeth Smart saga deserves retelling, and if the Smarts are willing to let the world peek into their lives for another moment, we ought to jump at the chance to learn from them without questioning their intentions.

Besides, it is nice to hear a happy ending to a tragic story for a change.

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