Elizabeth Smart Speaks Out Against “Abstinence Only” Education

elizabeth smart
Elizabeth Smart

11 years after she was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Elizabeth Smart spoke out at Johns Hopkins University against “abstinence only” education, claiming that it leaves rape victims feeling worthless.

Smart grabbed headlines around the world in 2002, when at the age of 14 she was kidnapped at knife point from her suburban Utah home. After being tied up and raped daily, she was rescued 9 months later.

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.”

Utah’s sex education law is commonly referred to as “abstinence plus.” Meaning that while a teacher can acknowledge the existence of contraception devices, it is illegal for them to go into much detail or advocate their use. The only legal avenue a teacher can recommend to a student, even if that student confidentially tells them they are already having sex, is abstinence. Sex education classes are offered in schools across the state, but they fall under “opt-in” guidelines, meaning that parents are required to sign a form allowing their children to attend.

During the 2012 legislative session, that almost changed when (now former) State Representative Bill Wright (Republican, Holden) introduced HB363, more commonly known as the Anti Sex-Ed bill, which would have stripped sex ed classes from schools and dropped Utah to full “abstinence only.” Opponents of the legislation argued that the bill stripped parents of their right to decide for themselves whether or not they wanted their children to take sex ed classes in school, pointing to the fact that over 90% of parents with kids in public schools opt-in to the classes.

The bill passed both bodies of the Utah Legislature, but was eventually vetoed by Governor Gary Herbert after his office received thousands of phone calls, emails and letters from opponents of the law.

Related Post: UPC Show #21: We discuss the rising STD rates in Utah

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