Kidnapped and raped at age 14, Elizabeth Smart told an audience of more than 900 it was the love she shares with her family that allowed her to survive.
She was the keynote speaker Monday at the annual Women Helping Women Fund Tri-Cities benefit luncheon at TRAC in Pasco.
The lunch generally raises about $100,000, but "we're hoping to reach our goal of $130,000 this year," said Faith Martin, a Women Helping Woman volunteer.
The money will be used for grants for seven Tri-City organizations dedicated to empowering women, creating healthy families and mentoring women and children. Contribution totals won't be known until later in the week.
Smart told the audience about being taken from her home in Salt Lake City at knifepoint 10 years ago. Her abductor claimed God had commanded him to do it.
"I remember going to bed and falling asleep. Then I heard this voice. I couldn't believe it was real. He said, 'I have a knife at your neck. Don't make a sound. Get up and come with me,' " she said.
He took her into the mountains outside the city to a tent where she was raped and chained to a tree.
"I remember laying on the floor of the tent feeling worthless and dirty. Thinking about the kids you hear about on the news who are raped and murdered, I thought, 'They're not alive, they're the lucky ones,' " she said.
In despair, Smart's thoughts turned to her parents and siblings.
"I told myself that it didn't matter I'd been kidnapped, raped and chained to a tree. Mom would always love me and dad would be the same way. I knew the love my brothers and sister have for me wouldn't change either," she said.
"I knew that was one thing I could count on and because of that it was worth surviving. No matter what happened, whether this lasted three days or 30 years, I would survive," Smart said.
She was imprisoned by the man and his wife for nine months before being found and released. Later, after she was freed, it was advice from her mom that gave Smart the courage to go on with her life.
Her mother told her "the best punishment I could give him is to be happy and live the life I want," Smart said.
And what she wanted was to dedicate her life to preventing crimes against children through the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. Smart also provides motivation and encouragement to children who have suffered through experiences similar to hers.
She collaborated with the Department of Justice and four other recovered young adults on a survivor's guide, You're Not Alone: The Journey from Abduction to Empowerment.
"It may sound odd, but I'm grateful it happened to me. So many victims do not have a voice," Smart said.
Organizations benefiting from this year's Women Helping Women fundraiser include At-Risk Youth Chaplain, Education on Wheels, The Children's Program, Safe Families for Children, Royal Family Kids Camp, The Support, Advocacy and Resource Center Counseling Program and First Generation Scholarships
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; email@example.com