Did Elizabeth Smart say Americans should abandon abstinence-only education? Was this the most important part of her recent speech to a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum?
That’s rubbish, in my opinion, and an insult to her real message, which had to do with the need to teach children not just to avoid going with strangers but to fight back, and of the need to teach them that no one can steal their self-worth.
Watch a video of the speech and judge for yourself. Numerous commenters to a Deseret News story, and other reports, such as this one in Australia, or this one in the Washington Post, not only miss the point, they seem more interested in being political than helpful.
Two issues are at stake here. One is consensual premarital sex, particularly as engaged in by teenagers (Smart was 14 when she was abducted). The other, more relevant one has to do with rape, sexual coercion and its relationship to chastity and the worth of a soul. Don’t confuse the two.
Smart recently completed an LDS Church mission and was married in the temple. Why would anyone presume she suddenly devalues sexual fidelity or abstinence before marriage?
I don’t know her feelings about whether abstinence-only should be taught in public schools. There is room for discussion on that, but her talk didn’t address it.
As I listened to Smart’s speech, I heard concerns about an unfortunate chewing gum analogy, used by a schoolteacher (not a church teacher, as some commenters have implied). The teacher compared someone who has premarital sex with a used piece of chewing gum. “Nobody should ever say that,” Smart said.
I heard her speak lovingly of her family and her parents, who had taught her correctly about the importance of chastity and the sanctity of sexual intercourse within the bonds of marriage. She never said this teaching was wrong, but she did talk about how being raped made her feel as if somehow she had violated those teachings.
I also heard her speak about the confusion she felt as a young woman trying to reconcile a crime of violence, rape, with what she had been taught about chastity and with unfortunate lessons about the worth of people who are not chaste.
Would her ordeal at the hands of a violent, abusive nut-job have been easier if she had been raised in a family that taught it was OK to experiment with so-called “safe” sex?
The question, and the premise behind it, are incredibly insulting and demeaning to all she endured. Brian David Mitchell, like other abusers, sought to fraudulently make her his by perverting teachings on chastity with brute force.
The problem wasn’t the way she had been instructed about chastity, it was the lack of instruction about how rape is a crime of violence and not a reflection in any sense on the victim. It was, as she said, a lack of training that it is OK to fight back and that no one can steal your self-worth.
But to confuse a talk about rape, the worth of souls, the hope a loving traditional family can provide to keep a young victim of violent crime going, and the need to better educate children about the dangers of abduction with a rant against teaching that premarital sex is wrong is bizarre, at best.