Twelve years after being rescued, Elizabeth Smart reveals how she is helping other exploited children

Twelve years ago yesterday, Elizabeth Smart was rescued from kidnappers who held her captive for nine months. Her story consumed the nation, and she has used her fame to give back and help other children who are being exploited. This morning on radio, she joined the radio show to promote her fundraiser this Saturday for the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and Operation Underground Railroad.

Below is a rush transcript of this segment:

GLENN: It was 12 years ago yesterday that America had a happy ending to Elizabeth Smart and her saga where she had been kidnapped for her -- from her home and was missing for nine months. We all held our breath as everyone searched for Elizabeth Smart. And then we all thought, she'll never be found. Twelve years ago yesterday, she was found. She's on the phone with us now. Hello, Elizabeth, how are you?

ELIZABETH: I'm doing great, thanks. How are you doing?

GLENN: I'm good. You're one of the more impressive people I've met. I don't know how you've taken such a period of darkness in your life and turned it. And you're normal, you're functioning. You're beyond normal and functioning. You're a positive force. How did you do that?

ELIZABETH: I have had so much help and support over the years from my family and my friends and my community. I mean, I could -- I could go on forever thanking people.

GLENN: You have a foundation now, and you're working with Project Underground Railroad. And this is the reason we wanted to have you on real quick is because tomorrow you're raising money and it is at Utah Valley University in Orem. And tickets are available at UtahsStars.com. That's plural. UtahsStars.com. What's happening tomorrow, and why is it important?

ELIZABETH: An all-star show lined up filled with incredible people performing. And I'm so excited about this because this will help fund future missions for Operation Underground Railroad and help bring the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and OUR even closer together. I just can't wait because the work that we do combined is incredible. IMF being able to go out on sting operations and rescue people who have been sexually trafficked and then not just -- not just end there, but then continue to work with them and help them go through rehabilitation and help them see the future that I see so that they don't feel like they're -- they don't feel like they're less than anyone else. They know they're just as valued and just as important as everyone else and that they can do anything they want in life.

GLENN: So a couple of things. Yesterday, Tim Ballard wrote to me. He's in charge of operation rescue where they go and break up these sex rings of children. He said six arrested. Twenty-nine kids saved. The youngest were 12 and 13. The kids are getting rehab now.

You were fortunate to have friends and family. Emphasis on friends and family and faith, but some of these kids don't. What are they going through, and how are they possibly going to ever get well?

ELIZABETH: I was so fortunate because I did have that family and I did have that support. And that's actually what we try to then in turn try to give back to these children.

And we can only take it, I mean, one step at a time and we can only do as much as we can. I mean, part of it does have to come from the children themselves. I mean, they have to want to get better. They have want to move forward with their lives and leave this in the past. So it's definitely not an easy road. It's -- it's hard. It's bumpy. I mean, there are -- there are setbacks. And then there are -- you know, moments where we spring forward.

But it's a journey. I mean, it's not just you're rescued. You're out of this terrible situation where you're forced to have sex all the time. And now just move forward. I mean, it's much more than that. It's helping them to find security in their life. It's helping them to find that hope that they can be happy. It's working with them. It's not just leaving them out that they're forgotten now. That they're physically out of that situation when mentally they still may feel very, very much in that situation. Where they still might fear very much for their lives for what will happen in the future. And it's a process. I think it takes a lifetime of healing.

GLENN: Do you ever go through that still? Do you have times where you are -- that you have a flashback or a fear that's unreasonable, that comes from that place? Like what was yesterday like for you?

ELIZABETH: I'm still human. I definitely have my ups and my downs.

GLENN: What was yesterday like for you? Was that hard? Is an anniversary like that hard?

ELIZABETH: Well, yesterday that was a great anniversary because, I mean, that was -- that was the day that my life was given back to me. Everything that I thought had been taken from me. And everything I thought that I would never have again. All the experiences that I thought had been stolen from me. I mean, that was the day my life was given back to me. So, no, yesterday is a reminder of a wonderful day.

GLENN: So can you -- and I know you've told me this story before. But do you mind just telling the story about that moment of when you're walking and you -- you realize you're about to be free. Can you take us through that?

ELIZABETH: Absolutely. We had just hitchhiked back to Salt Lake from California. And I remember just even crossing the state line, how happy I was just to be back in Utah. I mean, I didn't know I was going to be rescued yet. I didn't know anything. For all I knew, I felt like I would be stuck with my captors for who knows how long. But I was so happy --

GLENN: And you had moved them to the place to convince them to go back to Utah. Right?

ELIZABETH: And that was a miracle in and of itself because, I mean, my captors, they never listened to what I thought would keep good. But, I mean, obviously they wouldn't because, if they did, I would have been home nine months earlier. It never would have happened.

GLENN: Right.

ELIZABETH: So anyways, we were walking up State Street in Salt Lake City, and all of a sudden, a whole bunch of police cars pulled up and surrounded us. And this wasn't a first time that we had been approached by police. We had been approached several other times. And every time, I had been so hopeful that I would be rescued. And so this time, when we were surrounded, I mean, yes, I was hopeful, but at the same time I just thought, well, I better not get my hopes up too high because this has happened before.

And I've seen it --

GLENN: Why wouldn't you say while the police were there, it's me. It's me. It's me.

ELIZABETH: I'm actually glad you bring that point up. Because I don't think I've ever met a kidnapped survivor who hasn't been asked some kind of question to that end. And I have been physically chained up, and I have been verbally chained up. And I can tell you, verbally chained up, often those chains are stronger than physical ones.

For me, my family means everything. And I was constantly being threatened that, I'll kill you, I'll kill your family, if you ever run away, if you ever do anything we don't say, you'll be so sorry, you'll wish you were dead.

And up until that point, I had every reason to believe them. I mean, he successfully kidnapped me. He successfully raped me. He successfully chained me up. Starved me. Abused me. All these things. Every time, he said he would do something, he did them, and nobody was there to stop them. So when he said that he would kill me if I ran away or he would kill my family, I believed him. I had every reason to believe him. I didn't have a reason to doubt his word.

And, I mean, I had seen police come up to us before and turn around and walk away from us being completely convinced that I wasn't me, that we were just whatever he told them. So...

PAT: But on this occasion, it was different. Right?

ELIZABETH: This occasion it was a little different. I still had those same thoughts in my head. I certainly didn't want to endanger my family. And I had made several attempts in the past to escape. But that always came at a great personal cost. And clearly I hadn't been successful up until that point.

And so when the policeman started asking questions. I mean, there were more policeman than there ever had been before, my captors starting to give answers. I was told, don't say anything. We'll do all the talking. And if I did had to say something, they had gone over a whole story of what I was supposed to say to the police. So they kept questioning. And kept questioning. And finally when the officer said, I think this girl is too scared. I think we need to separate her for a little bit and question her, you know, just by herself.

And so they took me a few yards away. And they started to question me. And at first, all I could think of was my captors and was what they had told me. That they'll kill me, they'll kill my family, that I had to do exactly what they said. Even though more than anything I wanted to scream out and say, it is me. Please take me away. Rescue me. Save me.

But at first, I just -- I couldn't because all I could hear was them telling me they were going to kill me and they were going to kill my family. But then eventually, one of the officers looked at me and said, you know, there's a girl, and she's been missing for a long time now. And her family has never given up hope of finding her. And they love her. And they miss her and they want her to come home. Don't you want to go home? And it was only in that moment that I finally found the courage to say, yes. And admit that I was Elizabeth Smart.

GLENN: Oh, my gosh.

ELIZABETH: And that was the moment that I knew that this was -- at least this leg of my life was over.

GLENN: So, Elizabeth, we have seen the footage. And it brings you to tears. We've seen the footage of the rescue missions that, you know, the Operation Underground Railroad has done. And we see these 12-year-old girls. And they're on the boat, you know, to go over to now perform sexual favors for strangers. And it's just so hard to get your arms around. What are they thinking, do you suppose when they're on that boat? Are they -- have they disconnected so much from themselves, what do you suppose is happening to them?

ELIZABETH: I'm -- I'm positive there are many different things going through their heads. I think, yes, for a lot of them they disconnect and they just -- they see this as their lot in life and there's nothing they can do about. And so they just resign themselves and do whatever it takes to survive. I think for so many of them they go into survival mode. And I know I certainly did when I was kidnapped. And I would just try to shut down all feeling because it was too painful for me to try to consciously feel everything that was going on. And just whatever it was, I would just do it to survive. And I know that's how so many of these girls and boys feel and do when they're in these terrible situations.

GLENN: Elizabeth, again, I have more respect for you than -- I mean, I just don't even know who I put you in the category of. I think you're an amazing, amazing woman who has taken some of the darkest stuff I've ever seen and turned it into such beauty and grace and dignity and service to others. I just have profound respect for you. And it's a joy to have you the program.

Tomorrow, at Utah Valley University in Orem, tomorrow night, it's a fundraiser for the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and Operation Underground Railroad to prevent the exploitation of children and the rescuing of children who are victims of the sex trafficking trade and there's just -- you'll tell you, there's -- there is nothing that I think God would want you to do more than rescue his little ones. And this is a way to actually make a difference.

As I said, yesterday afternoon, I get just this text from Tim: Six arrested. Twenty-nine kids saved. Youngest 12 and 13. All well. Kids getting rehab now. My team out of route of the country. It's just amazing. We're just seeing miracles happen. And you can help do that and have a good night tomorrow by going to this fundraiser. And it's not going to be a drag. There will be a lot of people there. It's an entertainment thing. Utah stars. UtahsStars.com. If you want to get tickets. Thank you so much, Elizabeth. Great talking to you.

ELIZABETH: Thank you.

GLENN: God bless.

Wow, she's amazing.

PAT: Yeah. That's an incredible story. If you've read her book. You know that harrowing and miraculous in many ways story of what she went through.

GLENN: And the way she's so smart. The way she manipulated them, you know. I mean, she's just a brilliant, brilliant girl.

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