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News / Health / Clark County Health

NWCAVE fundraiser hosts Elizabeth Smart: “Media is so powerful. I have no doubt that I would not be here if not for the media”

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 8, 2024, 3:23pm

As a child, Elizabeth Smart was taught to not talk to strangers, to use the buddy system, and to stop, drop and roll if on fire. But she wasn’t taught what to do when confronted with sexual violence. Most kids aren’t.

It was a realization the child safety activist and author said she had after she was abducted from her bed in 2002 and held captive for nine months.

On Friday, Smart asked a room of 250-plus people how many had used stop, drop and roll. Two people raised their hands. She then asked rhetorically how many had experienced sexual abuse. She didn’t need to see hands: 1 in 5.

“I was never taught what to do when it came to sexual abuse,” Smart said. “At the time, I thought I wouldn’t be worthy of being rescued once I had been sexually assaulted.”

8 Photos
Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart, third from left, poses for photos with guests of the Java For Justice Brunch at the Heathman Lodge on Friday morning, March 8, 2024. Friday was International Women's Day.
Java for Justice Brunch Photo Gallery

Kicking off International Women’s Day, the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation hosted its Java for Justice Brunch at the Heathman Lodge in Vancouver, where Smart shared her story to survivors, community members and public officials.

The brunch was the Vancouver nonprofit’s first fundraiser since 2020 and aimed to highlight the importance of sexual violence prevention. NWCAVE has provided assistance in 500-some court cases. The nonprofit advocates for survivors, and aims to inform, educate and prevent violence and exploitation.

Smart was rescued and returned to her family March 12, 2003, after two couples recognized her in public from the news.

“Media is so powerful. I have no doubt that I would not be here if not for the media,” Smart said during the morning’s keynote address. “If my story had not been in the news, I wouldn’t have been rescued. I will never lose my faith in the goodness of humanity — of the goodness of what one person can do.”

Even after she was rescued, she said, she had to learn how to reclaim her life and overcome the trauma from that experience. During her speech, she emphasized how harmful it is to question survivors about their choices in a domestic violence or sexual abuse situation.

“When people say, ‘Why didn’t you leave sooner?,’ or, ‘Why didn’t you just drive away?,’ survivors don’t hear the curiosity in your voice, they only hear what they should have done,” Smart said.

Since the kidnapping, Smart has become a voice for ending sexual assault through education, healing and advocacy. She has authored two books called “Where There’s Hope” and “My Story,” both sharing the details of her experience. Smart is also the founder of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and helped promote safety legislation to prevent child abductions.

Friday’s event began with emcee Ashley Korslien of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office who welcomed guests, following a performance by domestic violence survivor and musician Acacia Dawson.

“Media Matters” was the theme of this year’s brunch. NWCAVE founder and President Michelle Bart expressed the important role media has in raising awareness about victims of sexual violence and exploitation. As Smart mentioned, 1 in 5 women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. It’s a statistic that NWCAVE hopes to reduce through advocacy, and one day, stop all together.

“Since 2012, we’ve had a dream — a world without violence,” Bart said. “Because victims, not perpetrators, should have every right in America and not the other way around.”

NWCAVE presented Jason Houser with the Spotlight for Justice Award for his dedication to the nonprofit’s Missing Children’s Division. He’s donated more than $20,000 to the division over the years. To her surprise, Korslien was awarded with the National Journalism Impact Award. Formerly an investigative reporter at KGW, in 2023 Korslien and her colleagues released a documentary into a wide-scale investigation of what happens when institutions responsible for protecting patients and holding doctors accountable fail to do so.

Kathie Mathis, the newly appointed director of the Advocacy Center for Justice, took the stage right before the brunch ended with an auction.

“The trouble with the word justice is there is none,” Mathis said. “The violence has already been done to the person. It’s our job to fight for victims so the perpetrators are held accountable.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.