I’ve been puzzled, over recent days, by certain remarks attributed to Elizabeth Smart — remarks in which she seems to criticize, rather harshly, what she had been taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding chastity.
Supposedly, her church had taught her that young women who have had nonmarital sex — even coerced sex, in rape or child abuse — are like licked cupcakes, or already-chewed gum, or boards into which a nail has been driven and that can never be restored to their unmarred state. Consequently, having been raped by Brian David Mitchell, her abductor, she felt herself worthless. This, she supposedly said, is why she didn’t try to escape. Her church is responsible.
Her criticisms didn’t seem consistent with what I had heard and read from her before. I specifically recall her saying that it was her church’s and her parents’ teaching that she is a daughter of God that had helped her to retain the sense that, despite Mitchell’s abuse, she was valuable and valued, not worthless. She has recovered remarkably well, and, among other things, has served a mission in France and has married in the temple. She scarcely seems hostile to her church, or resentful of its teachings. (For those who might be unaware, sheer admission to LDS temples is granted only to those who have been judged to be committed to the teachings and practices of the LDS Church.)
I resolved that I would comment upon this matter on my blog, but that, first, I wanted to be sure to get everything exactly right.
(I’ve had some personal involvement with this famous case: Early on, not long after she was recovered, I was retained by the State of Utah as an expert witness, to analyze Brian David Mitchell’s “revelations” and testify for the prosecution regarding them and what they seemed to disclose about his state of mind. The state’s case never went to trial, but, when the federal government took the matter up several years later, I did in fact testify for the prosecution during both Mitchell’s competency hearing and, a year later, at his actual criminal trial.)
Fortunately, it seems that I may not have to do much checking up. And it also seems that the accounts of her recent comments at Johns Hopkins University have garbled her sentiments rather seriously. (See here, for example.)
Color me astonished that the national news media would seem to slant a story touching on a socially-conservative church in a negative direction, and that certain commentators would leap on that slanted story with uncritical and perhaps agenda-driven gusto.