Did Elizabeth Smart say it’s wrong to teach abstinence?

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?

dnews ElizabethSmartSpeaks

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.

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.


  1. LDS Liberal

    I remember this little controversial comment:

    “It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”

    Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 196

    Guilty or not,
    I personally knew dozens of young women back in the 1970’s who left the church over that one comment.

    Looking at Elizabeth Smart, and other fine, strong, beautiful young women who were vitcims.
    IMHO, in my older wiser years, I must agree — think that comment was just flat out wrong.

    Too bad that belief remains so prevelant to this very day.

    • James Numark

      When someone is raped, they may loose their virginity, but that doesn’t mean they have lost their virtue. The quote of Spencer W. Kimball, while commonly taken out of context and spirit of the message, is not doctrinally congruent to this implication or interpretation. One does not loose virtue, it is forfeited. It is not taken, but abandoned. I highly doubt that is Soencer W. Kimball were alive today and was faced with the Elizabeth Smart scenario would blame Elizabeth and punish her for a loss of virtue. We don’t know how she fought, we don’t know if she felt worthless because she was taught incorrectly about sex, or if it was simply because someone was cheapening solething that is supposed to be sacred and beautiful.Her going on a mission and being found worthy if a temple marriage is sign enough that such is certainly not the ads with today’s church leaders.

      Consider the alternative to teaching abstinance in her case. What will Elizabeth Smart teach her daughters about this situation, would you teach safe sex? How would that have changed things in the case of rape? Safe rape? I would be willing to say that when it comes down to it, Elizabeth will still teach abstinance to her children, but she would put it in the proper context, that each person determines their own value, not their rapist.

    • Becky W.

      I took that quote to mean something else. More that one should fight as much as they can, whether in the actual situation or as a person speaking out against sexual abuse and trying their best to defend those victims of it. It’s the line, “without a struggle” that speaks to me and what the word “virtue” means:
      “Behavior showing high moral standards: “paragons of virtue”.
      A quality considered morally good or desirable in a person.” So not only relative to the implied sexual definition but all other standards by which someone lives and find important. What would you fight for?

    • Marianne POwer

      The comment in the Miracle of Forgiveness was taken out of context, in my opinion. By being raped, my virtue has not been taken from me. It is the sin of someone else who stole the use of my body for their own moment of hatred. I remember my own mother teaching me that it would be better to die than be raped — this is wrong. The victim of rape had no choice in the matter — to submit and SURVIVE is the right thing to do so that she/he can bring the perpetrator to justice and prevent it from happening to someone else!

    • John Lambert

      You are taking the quote itself out of context. It is not a quote about rape at all. It is a quote on the importance of virtue.

      I would like to here more leaders be more clear that victims of rape do not loose their virtue. But I have heard apostles declare such in general conference.

  2. TMC

    @LDS Liberal

    “Too bad that belief remains so prevelant to this very day.”

    Nonsense. That belief, if mentioned today by a youth leader/teacher is the exception and is certainly not doctrinal, nor is it included in the youth curriculum.

    Yes, the articles did grossly misrepresents Elizabeth’s words. It seems that the liberal left and Mormon-haters use every opportunity to promote their agenda, even to the point of misrepresenting Elizabeth Smart of all people. They make it look like Elizabeth’s terrible experience was the fault of the Church, and that she didn’t try to escape because of the Church’s teachings. This agenda is so full of baloney it sickens me. Elizabeth didn’t try to escape because she feared her perpetrator would kill members of her family. To say that it was because of Mormon teachings is a sick distortion.

    • Man_of_letters

      “Nonsense. That belief, if mentioned today by a youth leader/teacher is the exception and is certainly not doctrinal, nor is it included in the youth curriculum.”

      Whether or not it is the exception is purely speculative, unless there is some sort of formal study on the matter. Neither you nor he nor I can speak to the rate at which it occurs, but we can speak from our own experiences.

      I personally have heard this idea (that a woman should fight to the death before allowing herself to be violated) within the last ten years.

      An associated problem is the use of Moroni 9:9 in the YW personal progress manual to teach about virtue, which is indeed a problem here and now.

      The Church is run by mortals, the lessons are taught by mortals, the manuals are written by mortals. There is no shame in admitting that we are imperfect and that the we make mistakes. The only shame is in pretended inerrancy, which stops all possibility of progress – and eternal progress should be our goal.

      • Allison

        Well I’ve never ever heard that quote. Ever. I grew up in the church and I’ve never been taught that, for the sake of my own virtue and self-worth, I should allow myself to be killed before I allow myself to be raped. It’s ridiculous! Plus, self-worth isn’t contingent upon any amount of sin. We are all worth the same,and that never changes.

    • LHG

      This article was right on target. The Washington Post is a very liberal newspaper supporting Democrats and plays tricks on conservatives like George Allen and now Elizabeth Smart. I have watched how the Washington Post exhibits is liberal partisan agenda for 40 years. Tnanks to Jay Evensen another glaring example is exposed.

  3. 10cc

    I always wondered why Elizabeth didn’t more aggressively try to escape. At a party a block and a half from the SLC police station? Seriously? Run!!

    I thought she must have been the most passive kid alive, or she was brainwashed to the point where she would be visiting Mitchell in jail after the whole ordeal.

    It’s understandable if her self-worth was essentially trashed via internalizing the chewing gum analogy, in addition to threats toward her family. The mystery makes sense now.

    Hopefully some good can come of this, that young girls can be assertively taught that while maintaining their chastity through their own agency is important, that they are not garbage if they happen to make a mistake, or if they are violated against their will.

    Kudos to Elizabeth for making a difference in this world.

    • Dorothy

      You must not have watched the video because she spoke about why she didn’t run away from her captors. Go watch it and you’ll understand why she and others don’t run.

    • John Lambert

      It is easy to say “run”, but when Brian David Mitchell has promised to kill you and your family if you do, you will not try to run.

  4. Masdy

    “The problem wasn’t the way she had been instructed about chastity”

    Actually, i think she did say at least the way the teacher had taught her was part of the problem. And in Elizabeth’s example it was a school teacher but very easily could’ve been a YW or other church leader. Elizabeth said that because she lost her virginity she felt devalued and she didn’t say those who lose their virginity by “choice” should feel devalued either.

    She emphasized the importance of empowering women– girls at an early age by teaching them skills and letting them know they can fight back. However, we must be careful that no woman should feel devalued if she doesn’t “fight back.”

    Abstinence only programs have shown to fail. But education should be tailored to age-appropriateness. Abstinence until marriage can be part of the curriculum, but should not be the only thing taught about sex. I think additional teaching for women (and men) about to enter college should include the deadly combination of alcohol and substance abuse as a risk factor for rape. Young women in college should be warned not to drink– and to use the “buddy” system. Lastly, we should stop judging women who are impaired and raped as deserving of that rape.

    Mostly, however, there needs to be a seismic shift in men’s culture. No more silence and acceptance of “boys will be boys” sexual culture. What is happening on college campuses and in our armed aervices is appalling.

    Most rapes go unreported. And many go unreported because the victim feels devalued and fears she will be further victimized by society, by the judicial system etc.

    • Lenora

      Thank you for your words, Masdy. I think this is the most sensible comment in this entire conversation. We should be using Elizabeth Smart’s words as a platform to help change our attitude toward rape culture instead of arguing what her comments implied about abstinence-only education.

  5. @UtahMormonDemoGuy

    No, Jay. I think it is you who missed the point. It is pretty clear that Elizabeth Smart was saying that they way we teach about sex, sexual violence and self-worth is confusing to young women (and men). I don’t think she was blaming anyone; rather, she pointing out that we do our children a disservice if they learn about sex in a way that causes them to personalize and internalize acts of violence perpetrated upon them simply becuase the acts are sexual. Her message was, in my view, exceptionally insightful and one that we as a society ignore at our peril.

    • So … how does what you say differ from what I said? I happen to agree with you. We shouldn’t teach children unhealthy messages about sex.

      • Man_of_letters

        Well, it differs in one way in that you conflate opposing abstinence-only sex education with “devaluing sexual fidelity or abstinence before marriage,” ignoring the fact that people (not necessarily Ms. Smart), might have more legitimate opposition to such education than simply wanting to teach promiscuity. Do you honestly believe that this was why there was such an outcry over last year’s HB363?

      • OK, I see there seems to be some confusion over my statement about her “devaluing sexual fidelity,” etc. You’re making an assumption about what I wrote that isn’t necessarily true. I was reacting to the many headlines, some of which I linked to, that said she was blaming her Mormon upbringing for why she didn’t escape her captors, or that were implying she didn’t believe in abstinence before marriage. That would not be consistent with who she is. I wasn’t making a comment on those who oppose abstinence-only education. That’s not what this blog post is about. I should have stated that more clearly. My apologies.

      • Man_of_letters

        Your comments are definitely more acceptable in the light of the news articles you linked, though calling out “numerous commenters” to the previous DN article in the same breath as those… well, let’s just call it like it is, those idiots who wrote the WP and PN articles is a bit extreme.

        The comments in the DN article are much more level-headed than the stories which were somehow published in those papers, where it is quite evident the authors never actually watched the raw video.

      • LDS Liberal

        Jay and the rest of you,
        The Church teaches our young people All-or-Nothingism…

        Think about it —
        even in our Temples,
        The definition of “The Law of Chastity” is stated very clearly —

        “…each of you shall have NO sexual relations except with… husabnand/wife …you are legally and lawfully wedded.”

        it NEVER makes any differentiation between consensual sex vs. non-consensual sex.

        We are doing our children a HUGE dis-service by not explaining or teaching EXCEPTIONS to the rules and by making everything in life so absolutely and completely Black-or-White, All-or-Nothing extremist.

        Abstenience Only is not the right approach.
        It is preferred, but must not be ONLY.

      • slcfreddy

        @LDSLIBERAL You are correct, but also missing the other side of the lessons that are taught in the church and the temple. There are two principles at play here, Justice and Mercy. The law of chastity says that women AND men should not engage in sex outside of marriage, no exceptions. Any breach of this principle is a breach of the law and subject to Justice. Mercy is the Love of God that shows us our worth and shields the innocent from the punishment of Justice. Because of Mercy victims of rape, incest and any crime are not responsible for the acts of the perpetrators of that crime and should feel no guilt or responsibility. So, yes we teach the law and that we are absolutely subject to that law but if we fail to acknowledge Mercy then we have only taught part of the principle and pave the way for unnecessary guilt and pain. This is the overarching principle that the LDS Church teaches

  6. Jade

    Jay grossly misinterprets Smart’s fundamental faults of abstinence only education. The chewing gum analogy, 2 years ago it was the licked cupcake, personifies the emotional damage inflicted by ‘morally’ driven abstinence only education. It not only demonizes sex creating future issues; it reduces a person’s (mainly women’s) value to their sex. The abstinence only education faults sexuality in all forms. Even if the rape wasn’t part of the discussion why would you want to perpetuate young women finding their value, especially to a man, between their legs. Why define yourself or anyone by their sexual activity? Rape tends to stir feelings of guilt and shame; an unhealthy attitude towards sex only helps compound those feelings. And this just scratches the psychological issues of abstinence only education and I agree with Smart those reasons are compelling enough.

    • Jade,
      You make some valid points. Only problem is, Elizabeth didn’t say those things, at least not about abstinence only education. As I said, we don’t really know how she feels about that because she never addressed it other than to note that a teacher had used a horrible analogy. That, of course, doesn’t mean there couldn’t be better ways to teach the subject.

      • Man_of_letters

        You are correct in saying that most of the reporting has taken what she said in passing and used it to push a specific message she never explicitly endorsed. That said, the Deseret News entirely omitted the chewing gum statement, going too far in the other direction.

        Much worse is your assertion that if she DID oppose it, it would be because she “devalues sexual fidelity and abstinence before marriage.”

  7. wrz

    “Did Elizabeth Smart say it’s wrong to teach abstinence?”

    No, she said it was wrong to kidnap people.

  8. charlie

    “I heard concerns about an unfortunate chewing gum analogy, used by a schoolteacher (not a church teacher, as some commenters have implied)”

    Technicality! …. it was a schoolteacher true but that analogy has been used widely in our church community for decades. And that teacher, in a salt lake city school, was more likely than not a member since she used the chewing gum analogy. Plus ‘consensual premarital sex’ was never an issue in Smart’s talk.

    Now you make some good points here however Smart also noted one reason she didn’t run, and that she understands why others don’t run, was due to that chewed gun analogy. That was one of her more important points and answered many peoples questions. That, along with those constant threats affected her in a very negative way.

    As someone else on a board mentioned we could teach morality in positive and constructive terms not by scaring people from sex. They said: We think we have to condemn premarital sex in the harshest possible terms and scare kids into chastity or they will be out fornicating every weekend. The problem is, there’s no evidence to support that. We can teach kids that chastity is the best choice without fearmongering, scare tactics and hateful rhetoric against those who, for whatever reason, end up on the wrong side of the premarital sex line. We can make our teaching about sex positive instead of negative. That has a much better chance of success, and wouldn’t we rather that people choose chastity because they think it’s the right thing, rather than out of fear?”

    • Schwa

      I very clearly remember a church leader using that analogy while teaching a class I was in as a child.

      • Ian

        I’m trying to locate a young women’s manual, but according to a friend who taught Young Women’s class for years, it’s right in the manual. So, trying to say that it wasn’t at church that this lesson was taught is just insane.

  9. Dale

    After becoming President of the Church, President Kimball and his counselors adjusted the rape statement in two official letters on June 4, 1984, and February 7, 1985, so that the statement on p. 196 in The Miracle of Forgiveness does not represent the position of the Church. Current Handbooks so affirm.

    • Big Head Dave

      I guess all the people told by their bishops to read Miracle of Forgiveness (a recommendation still made frequently today) should have done the research needed to dig up a couple of decades old letters and consulted their standard issue copy of the Church Handbook. It’s really their own fault for not doing so when this message in Miracle of Forgiveness that no one has bothered to change makes them feel horrible about themselves.

      • Anonyme

        How many people, exactly, are being told to read The Miracle of Forgiveness by their bishops, especially on the topic of rape? Apparently you know. I just have a hard time believing that bishops are sending people to a decades-old book when the bishops have handbooks in their offices. Besides, anyone can search topics on lds.org. Type in “rape victim” and see what you get.

      • Ian

        As someone who just left a bishopric, and was involved in a number of disciplinary counsels, The Miracle of Forgiveness is still widely recommended, and widely read. Whether or not Smart read the book, the attitude taught in TMOF is fairly strong among members.

      • Man_of_letters

        Anonyme, again, this isn’t a matter of statistics, and the post you are replying to made no such claim. The point is that the problem exists, not that the problem happens x amount of times per 100 cases.

      • Anonyme

        Ian, what do disciplinary councils have to do with counseling a rape victim? I don’t deny that TMOF is being recommended; I just find it hard to believe that bishops would “widely recommend” it to someone who has been sinned against.

        Man_of_Letters, I know that incorrect doctrine is being disseminated by those who should know better. One instance is one too many. My point to Big Head Dave (besides expressing my skepticism that bishops are “frequently” referring *rape victims* to TMOF) is that the correct information is much more available than he suggests.

        Most of the people who show up here to testify that they heard the gum analogy in church don’t seem to be interested in acknowledging that the purveyors of that nonsense were mistaken and were not teaching doctrine. They don’t want to acknowledge the preponderance of information which shows the Church teaches the absolute innocence of victims. They want “the culture” to change, with the implication that the Church is at fault, but they don’t even seem to be aware of what positive steps the Church has already made. What’s their suggestion? Should the Church send lesson police to YW classes? Apologize for every rogue teacher in the past? I realize members have been hurt by false teachings; I hope that part of their healing process will be the realization that their teachers were wrong.

  10. Man_of_letters

    “Why would anyone presume she suddenly devalues sexual fidelity or abstinence before marriage?”

    “The problem wasn’t the way she had been instructed about chastity”

    She illustrated that there are serious issues with the methods used by well-intentioned people to teach these principles, and that these cause severe emotional distress because they are overly harsh and fail to accurately represent the situation. They also utterly devalue the atonement, though I don’t recall her explicitly stating that last bit herself. You’re jumping to the conclusion that having a problem with such methods is to reject the principles which they try to teach, which is utterly false.

    “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.”

    The issue is that there is not enough of a distinction made between the two, whether at home, in the classroom, or in church. People (again, well-intentioned) fire off extreme analogies which assert that the destruction of the hymen is comparable to chewing bubblegum (or licking a cupcake, or smearing dog feces into a cupcake, or any number of other examples), which of course is then impossible to restore to its original state and is good for nothing but to be cast into the garbage, or scraped off of your shoe with disgust.

    Even for consensual sexual intercourse, this lesson is too severe: a good friend of mine had sex with their partner, and immediately afterwords, broke down into tears because they felt that they could never be clean again, never make up for the sin which they had just committed. They thought that they were just used chewing gum now, so they went on committing the same sin over and over again for years. This represents a massive failure to teach the principle of repentance.

    And while neither one of us can back it up, in my experience these metaphors and attitudes are still very prevalent today.

    • Anonyme

      “This represents a massive failure to teach the principle of repentance”? I know two people who had sex with their partners, felt remorseful, went through the steps of repentance, and went on to live peaceful, happy lives. So I guess my two anecdotes beats your one. I’m just trying to say you can’t blame this on the church. I have yet to hear a talk by a church leader where the subject of sexual purity was not coupled (so to speak) with the reminder of the blessings of repentance and full forgiveness. And I definitely have yet to hear the word “hymen” in church, to say nothing of licked cupcakes.

      I’m pretty sure Elizabeth Smart had plenty of lessons, at home and at church, which emphasized her worth as a daughter of God. We can’t know why she may have focused on that ridiculous gum analogy; I can’t even begin to imagine the psychological trauma she endured at such a young age. But we do know she soon realized that nothing would change her parents’ love for her. I’m guessing that those positive, uplifting lessons played a role in her ability to survive.

      • Ian

        Anonome, I have encountered several women who were either converts to the church (after having been sexually active), or who were raped while teenagers, and the chewing gum (or licked cupcake, or flower with dirty petals) lesson was taught. All reported saying those lessons made them feel horrible, and in one case the young woman would walk out when a sexual purity lesson would start. These examples are from different wards and from different times across the country. It may not be official church doctrine, but we need to as a culture stop using these kinds of lessons. They are only guild inducing and they are harmful. I think the church is moving away from it, but how many young women (and men) will have to torture themselves because of this type of lesson before the culture catches up?

      • Man_of_letters

        “I’m just trying to say you can’t blame this on the church.”

        I don’t. I blame our culture, which influences people within and without the Church. And my point was that anecdotes are meaningless if we want to make arguments about the prevalence of a situation, but they can still be useful to illustrate areas where we need to improve.

        I am very glad that the two you mentioned knew that they could find comfort in the atonement, and that they had a loving father in heaven who would forgive them, and church leaders who would listen and guide with love. My point was not that it is a universal problem, just that it is a problem, in homes, schools, communities, and yes, in church. Todd Aiken’s comments on rape and pregnancy would be a more prominent example of our continuing misunderstanding.

        “I definitely have yet to hear the word “hymen” in church”

        Nor have I. I used it to illustrate a point about chastity lessons failing to distinguish between the cause and the effect: the hymen can be destroyed by rape, consensual sex, personal sexual practices, etc. The girl might not have been mentally capable of weighing the severity of the decision due to a handicap. She might not have been born with a hymen at all. So, thinking of the hymen as an indication of virginity or virtue is much like teaching lessons on virtue without discussing the nuances of sexual activity. That said, yes, it was a rather colorful choice of language.

        “I have yet to hear a talk by a church leader where the subject of sexual purity was not coupled (so to speak) with the reminder of the blessings of repentance and full forgiveness. And I definitely have yet to hear the word “hymen” in church, to say nothing of licked cupcakes.”

        It is my understanding that the primary source of these teachings are young women instructors. Again, I have nothing but anecdotal evidence from siblings and friends, (well, and Elizabeth Smart herself) but at least where I live, this was being taught within the last ten years. Sometimes repentance was “thrown in at the end,” though that poorly clashes with a destructive metaphor like chewing gum, and sometimes it wasn’t.

        Examples that do come from the Church are the misuse of Moroni 9:9 as the first scripture reference for virtue in the YW personal progress manual, or the (admittedly pseudo official) references from Miracle of Forgiveness, one of which has already been posted in these comments.

  11. atl134

    I had issues with both the original article here and the articles on other news sites that went with the abstinence angle. The others because she wasn’t condemning abstinence-only sex education (as Jay notes, her views on that are unclear), just criticizing the over-emphasis of virtue being tied to chastity and how that can be a harmful message.

    As for the original article on the matter here, I feel like leaving out her anecdote about the chewed gum removed the strongest point she had. Personally I felt like that decision to leave that out was made due to the commonality of that sort of lesson coming up in her religion (she doesn’t specify what kind of teacher that came from). Obviously nobody teaches it thinking it applies to victims like Elizabeth but frankly I think it’s a problematic thing to teach anyone, even those who have consentual sex before marriage.

    • Ian

      Agreed, the fact that Deseret news left that part out is disheartening. It was the crux of her point. I was a little embarrassed when I read the DN version of the story. Seems like a cover up.

  12. Steve Warren

    Actually, I think Elizabeth Smart’s real message was that just because someone loses their virginity, they should not be devalued. It is an important message, and, frankly, the LDS culture often does a poor job of communicating it to young people.

    I do think, however, that the Church is making some improvements. For example, in the 1979 Gospel Principles manual, three presidents of the Church (Heber J. Grant, David O. McKay and Spencer W. Kimball) are quoted as saying it is better for young people to die rather than lose their virtue (pp. 239-241). In the 2009 Gospel Principles manual, their statements were deleted. Presumably, that’s because the Church no longer believes this teaching.

    • Anonyme

      The LDS Church pamphlet For the Strength of Youth says this: “Victims of rape, incest, or other sexual abuse are not guilty of sin. If you have been a victim of any of these crimes, know that you are innocent and that God loves you.”

  13. HollandPark

    Super! AMEN.

    Way to expose those commenters and detractors who have chosen to skew and pervert Elizabeth’s remarks, meaning and intentions.

  14. HollandPark

    @10cc–“I always wondered why Elizabeth didn’t more aggressively try to escape”

    The same could be said for the recent story of the 3 in Cleveland who escaped TEN YEARS after being abducted….
    Or Patti Hurst back in the 70’s.
    Or untold numbers who are kidnapped and forced to become sex slaves to the LRA in Uganda / or other places.

    People who don’t know what they are talking about (like so many who have impugned Elizabeth or twisted her words) and who do not understand the trauma inherent in the abuse these kinds of victims suffer just come off looking shallow and and ridiculous when they imply stupidity or weakness in failing to try or succeed in escape attempts.

    • Margie10

      “She closed her presentation by insisting that we should not ask why some survivors of sexual exploitation don’t—or can’t—run, or scream, or otherwise resist their assailants. “We don’t know why they didn’t run. We don’t know the circumstances. And we’re all so different. We really don’t have a right to ask that question,” Smart admonished.”

  15. Dwight A. Hurst

    Omission by the DN of Smart’s account of the gum chewing analogy in their original coverage undermines any effort they now make after the fact to hide their failure at objective reporting by demonizing the reporting of other outlets. The DN is as guilty of bias as are others who also slanted their accounts.
    And to claim the “already chewed gum” lesson did not come from LDS culture because it was presented by a teacher in school and not on Sunday is simply splitting hairs. It is likely that lesson was taught during time release Seminary since those types of illustrations are a staple of CES teaching.
    I sat through that lesson in different incarnations throughout my youth and into the mission field where, after an Elder was tragically killed in a traffic accident, our mission president proclaimed from the pulpit that he’d rather this young man go home in a coffin than in disgrace for violating the law of chastity.
    Can’t we just acknowledge the point and admit we need to adjust the tone of our often overly strident teaching as parents and in the Church?

  16. WI_Member

    It’s a problem when church leaders and the current Personal Progress manuals continue to use scriptures such as Moroni 9:9 without context, or a nuanced discussion that chastity and virtue are so much more than virginity. Young girls have a difficult time making that distinction, as I think that Elizabeth painfully demonstrates. We can and must do better for all women.

  17. Porter

    The problem with your spirited defense is that the Des New left out the chewed gum analogy in it’s reporting, rather than putting it in context. That is a well known, and oft used analogy in teaching chastity in the YW program in the church. That made it a very legitimate part of Smart’s comments. The context that made it noteworthy, was that it was that type of teaching that made her not, to some degree, resist or try to escape. Des News made a serious editorial mistake in leaving that comment out. Having said all that, the liberal media is working hard to beat the comment into something it was not, but that does not change the fact that the DesNews made an error in omitting it.

  18. Eli

    The problem is that too many young people perceive the message, correctly or not, as “If you aren’t a virgin when you marry, you’re spoiled goods.”

    • Rapunzel

      That happens when you tie virginity to a person’s divine worth. And, it’s what leads to the justification of honor killings around the world: A girl loses her virginity (by force or by choice) and she suddenly loses all value. It is a barbaric way of thinking – and the two are closely connected.

  19. Man_of_letters

    As others have stated, both in the comments for this piece and for the original story, the problem with the Deseret News article is that they chose to omit Ms. Smart’s reference to the chewing gum metaphor, perhaps because members of the editorial staff felt that it hit too close to home.

    It was a mistake, and it looks biased.

    Seemingly due to the response to that article, this piece was published condemning not only those members of the media who had severely twisted her words (which they have), but also, for some reason, the commenters from the original piece, who were largely pointing out your own bias in omitting a very important point from her speech.

    All you really need to do is admit that you made a mistake. Explain that you are human beings, and your humanity got in the way of objectively covering the story. Don’t lash out at people who noticed the omission, we’re just trying to do what you failed to do: present the facts.

    Nobody needs to be fired or demoted, just admit your mistake. THEN you can criticize the other outlets, who are doing a worse job with a different set of biases. If you ignore the beam in your own eye, how can you remove the mote from theirs?

    • Man_of_letters

      I might add that the omission greatly weakened an opportunity to push for an imorovement in how we teach our youth about their value, which was one of the key points made by Ms. Smart.

    • I didn’t write the original story, but I see nothing wrong with it. I’ve been in this business 31 years, writing for several news organizations in several cities. When covering a speech, the important thing is to capture the essence of what the speaker said. Given limited space, you can’t include every anecdote. In this case, the reporter did indeed report the essence of what was said, and also included a link allowing all readers to view for themselves. Just because a certain anecdote satisfies a particular narrative is no reason to include it or exclude it. I assure you there was no editorial decision to omit anything, and I take exception to the idea it was a mistake or that we have to comply to a view of the talk the rest of the world is taking. That was the whole point of my piece. I’m certainly not going to apologize for something an esteemed colleague has written that is entirely defensible.

      • Rapunzel

        Nevertheless, the Deseret News obviously saw the original article as lacking since their is a new article (mentioning the controversial chewing gum object lesson) concerning Elizabeth Smart’s speech. I’m glad the DN took action to correct the glaring problem.

  20. Man_of_letters

    “I assure you there was no editorial decision to omit anything”

    That is honestly very relieving to hear.

    “I take exception to the idea it was a mistake or that we have to comply to a view of the talk the rest of the world is taking”

    You definitely do not have to take the view of the rest of the world. As I said, they’ve been doing a much worse job.

    “I’m certainly not going to apologize for something an esteemed colleague has written that is entirely defensible.”

    I’m not asking you, personally. Rather, the Deseret News, or the author of the original piece. I’d even be satisfied with an explanation rather than an apology, assuming that it was not a case of editorial bias. Whether the author is esteemed or not, the readership feels outraged (judging from the comments in both articles, though this is the internet…). There is no shame in offering an explanation or an apology – on the contrary, I consider such humility a mark of integrity.

    I assure you, I bear no ill will, particularly in matters of simple human error (the author omitted the quote simply because they didn’t feel it was necessary), misunderstanding (the readership’s view has been twisted so much by all of the other articles, that they assume that the omission is a coverup), or even in cases of genuine malfeasance followed by a sincere apology (the quote was removed to avoid offending anyone who has used the analogy or bringing any native light upon our culture or our church).

    • Man_of_letters

      And, as I’ve said before, your piece would be far more acceptable without vilifying the commenters in the original piece, instead focusing upon the other media outlets. The commenters are largely just trying to understand what appears to be a large oversight, whereas the rest of the media are twisting Ms. Smart’s words into something downright offensive.

  21. Daniel Loveridge

    Elizabeth Smart is an incredible woman with an incredible story, Jay, your article was great. And to all the strange comments, I don’t know what church you go to, but it’s not the one I attend. And the book Miracle of Forgiveness that you all read most not be the same book that I read either. Because you are only getting half of the message from all church sources. The point is not WHAT side of sin do you fall under, the perpetrator or the victim – the point is the “MIRACLE OF FORGIVENESS” That all violations of Gods Law, whether you committed it, or it was committed against you, can be wiped clear and you can be renewed, re-born, re-freshed because of the “MIRACLE OF FORGIVENESS”

  22. Toby Dillon

    I heard about this talk from a more liberal–and sex ed-biased–site. Then I heard about the Deseret News’s treatment in which the talking point that everyone else was talking about wasn’t even mentioned. I have a great deal of respect for Jay Evensen and I appreciate his views in this editorial, but I hope the News has learned that when everyone is talking about something, THAT’S NEWS. Even if you have to rebut it like Jay does here, THAT’S THE STORY. You don’t bury the lede, and you don’t ignore the elephant in the room. No points for scooping.

    That said, having watched this for myself, I think there’s merit to both arguments being made by Jay and the “liberal agenda-mongers.” Elizabeth points out a problem: the way we’re teaching children about sex is harmful to their self-worth. It’s not the curriculum necessarily, it’s the attitudes held by the teachers. Comparing losing one’s virginity to ABC gum? Poignant, but hardly sensitive to the many ways one may lose one’s virginity–and absolutely counter to the religious message of Christianity.

    Language matters; the words we use matter. As I’m raising children growing into an age in which they will be exposed to more violence, more promiscuity, more evil…I don’t want to give them license to do evil things, but I do want them to know what those evil things are and that, for whatever reason, if they find themselves spiritually dirty, there is a way to clean off. Most importantly, I want them to know that I love them no matter what, just like Elizabeth’s dad did; that there is no reason to fear my judgment, because I have already judged them worthy of my love. Teach abstinence or any other sex-ed curriculum–they’ll learn more from their friends anyway. But make sure that we teach that self-worth transcends this one aspect of our lives.

  23. Irony Guy

    Elizabeth’s key insight is that shame kept her from running. What induced that shame? The “doctrine” that she was chewed gum, a wilting rose, a bird with a broken wing that can never fly high, a board with a nail hole in it. All these analogies I have heard all my life. Mormon folk doctrines are wrecking lives, and that’s a serious message. Good for her. And Jay, please don’t write any more sentences with 45 words between the subject and the verb (your last sentence).

    • John Lambert

      The story was given in a school presentation. You have no evidence that her teacher was LDS, and to claim you known that because she was in school in Salt Lake City is just to ignore the facts involved.

      I would also say that you are taking the whole lesson out of context.

  24. Ann

    Yes, she did say it was a school teacher, but that ‘chewed gum, or licked cupcake or crushed rose’ analogy is taught every day in one ward house or another all over the country. It’s still taught today. And it’s still taught that it’s better to die than to submit to rape. To me, the idea of abstinance-only education wasn’t really the gist of the article. It was about the insanity of encouraging victims of sexual assault to feel guilt. Victims have had Bishops and Stake Presidents advise them to repent after being assaulted.

  25. Ernest T. Bass

    Kudos to Ms. Smart. Even if a person has intercourse by choice, they are hardly “chewed gum”. Using fear, guilt and intimidation to control a person’s behavior is the sign of cult like behavior. People shouldn’t be treated as outcasts.

  26. Lew Elton Jeppson

    “Did Elizabeth Smart say it’s wrong to teach abstinence?” Well Jay, why don’t you ask her? I’m sure this gutty lady will give it to you straight.

  27. Gregg Rushton

    The only true way to combat error is with truth. You can teach about safe sex while incuraging abstenance. While the church’s stance on sex before marriage is clear, it is the parents responcability to reinforce this teaching by teaching the truth behind the principle. In order for that to happen the parents must have an open and honest conversation with there kids about sex. I am vary lucky to have had parents that were vary open and honest with me on the subject. As for the media wanting to a quote out of context what else is new.

  28. Gary Mecham

    As I read all of the comments made I would have to say that regardless of how an individual is taught sex education that the experience of rape would be horrific. How could anyone feel good about themselves after experiencing something like that. I think Elizabeth’s comments suggest that to recover from an experience like this would be easier if one had been taught in a well rounded way.

  29. Shawn

    The very essence of Smart’s experience, is she was in the hands of a predator, who, like many others, will capatilize on the fear & trepidations of their “prey.”

    Elizabeth was groomed, and kept in control, because she was led to believe her actions would lead to her families death, her death, and that her worth was less if she did not conform. This is typical of molesters, and that fear can keep the child returning for more abuse, and never revealing it, for many years – even to adulthood.

    It would not matter what the fear might be, if the predator identifies it, they will use it to their advantage – conform to their will, and they become the psuedo-protector, hint at not conforming, and they cannot protect you from the fearful things that will happen to you, your self worth, your family, pet, etc.

    The essence of her speech is on the mark – nobody should be subject to trafficking, abuse.

  30. George Weight

    The chewing gum analogy points out the problems often cropping up with analogies in general. We had the chewing gum analogy presented in a Seminary Class many years ago (the ’50’s), and to most it was an effective lesson. But the emphasis was on avoiding premarital sexual experimentation, and sexual abuse never even entered our minds. But then it was a more innocent age.

    Certainly, I can see now how the confusion crept into the analogy with Elizabeth Smart, and how President Kimball’s statement mentioned in earlier comments could be misinterpreted. But Mr. Evensen is correct in pointing out there are two different issues involved here.

    Use of analogies is likely to continue on this as other LDS doctrinal subjects. (Parables are a case in point.) Teachers and students need to just be careful to point out and learn what they are NOT teaching as well as what they are.

  31. LDS Liberal

    I would just like to add here,
    The LDS Church allows for abortions in cases such as this, Rape.

    But the GOP heavy culture in Utah holds and iron grip of ZERO tolerence towards it.
    Some GOP leaders even coming right out and stating a pregnancy will spontaniously terminate in cases of “legitimate” rape.

    This discrepency [political vs. doctrinal] also adds to the severely wrong and misguided mixed signals these young women hear.

    Believe me, there are PLENTY of Latter-Day Saints who put the GOP hard-cruel-line of ZERO tolerence toward abortion even in the cases of rape, ahead of the LDS Church’s compassionate understanding in such sensitive and personal issues.

    • John Lambert

      Your attempt to blame politicians in Utah for the remarks of one politician in Missouri is the example of why some people hate politics. There are too many people like you who will lie about anything to advance their cause. You have no evidence against Utah politicians, but you are so in favor of your side you will lie and attack others.

      Smart did not conceive, so you are making a false analogy and then lying about things.

  32. Chad

    Whatever! Life beyond this life is better than here. Elizabeth endured hell. Had she died trying to escape or escaped and didn’t have to endure what she went through, would have been a more heavenly prospect, no doubt. You’re right…the quote is controversial, but only because on one side of the debate people understand it incorrectly. Too bad for people who choose to be offended where no offense was intended. My parents taught me to fight back even if someone has a gun and you know what? I avoided a would be abductor when I was 12. Pelted him and his car with rocks. Yes, he could have killed me. So what! I would have rather died then let that sleazeball take me and rape and torture me. Your political agenda against a church clouds your judgment. Elizabeth is not leaving the church. She’s a great example. And besides her agenda is more in line with this article than the absurd offshoot comments like yours that want to politicize it. Sick!

  33. Megara830

    I personally believe the writer of this has taken the speech and quote from Ms Smart out of context more so than the article being attacked– which was never a meant to be a full summary on her speech and experiences and beliefs about human trafficking. It was about taking her sentiments on a topic, what she thought about a contentious political issue, an discuss the issue, using her thoughts in the discussion. I have watcher her speech, and as with everything else about this young lady, I truly admire it. However, the article being “rebutted” is about how Ms Smart felt that the way she was taught in school about sex (the chewing gum metaphor) was an unnecessary editorial on how she should view sex and her virtue, which stuck with her later in life after dealing with this horrific tragedy. The first article then discusses how abstinence only education is more likely to teach peple these kinds of ideas, and are often taught with little or no context to them to discuss any other issues that may result. I don’t want schools pushing an agenda that sex is dirty or wrong or that a girls virtue lies in being chaste. I will handle this topic with my children, I send them to school to hear the facts, not guide their morality. I do not understand how a frank and clinical discussion of the facts around human sexuality can possibly damage a person’s beliefs about their sexuality, but I see how easy it is to, by focusing on abstinence, push a personal or spiritual agenda I may or may not agree with. I don’t want ANY teacher weighing in on my childrens’ sex life and whether it’s ok or not. Let’s face it, less than half of all sexual assaults are reported due to a woman’s fear and shame at what happened, at the violation and the fear of how people will view her if they know. Not that I believe if they were practicing safe sex it wouldn’t have happened to them, but I would like to think there was never a person who’s thoughts and careless words before the event who’s statements about sex and virtue contributed to the feelings of the victims shame. I think this article is a horribly glib defense of a harmful education policy that does nothing to change Ms Smart’s comment on sex education, and does more to try and twist her words into a cry for abstinence only education and chastity, rather than the sentiment I believe she was expressing that there is a horrible lack of education and empowerment among young women in the world today and the only way to fight that is by giving women ALL the facts relevant to them, without coloring the stories by imposing one person’s morality on another. No woman’s self worth should ever be tied to their “virtue”, no public teacher should be allowed to say that sex is bad or wrong outside of marriage, and no one ever went wrong by being OVERLY informed.

    • You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. Nowhere in this post did I say she was supporting abstinence-only education, nor am I writing in defense of it. In fact, I take no position in this post (I may in a later one some day). You call it “a horribly glib defense of a harmful education policy…” I’d like to know what part of what I wrote meets that description. The post was about one thing — other media putting words in Elizabeth Smart’s mouth that she never said.

  34. Delores

    Great article. I have seen articles passed around Facebook that make it seem like she was criticizing teaching abstinence. I have commented on every one expressin gym opinion that is wasn’t her message. I’m going to share this article on my wall.

  35. Kaity

    I just wanted to make a point to LDSliberal and to everyone arguing in this thread. LDSliberal quoted a line in the temple that tells members of the church: “…each of you shall have NO sexual relations except with… husabnand/wife …you are legally and lawfully wedded.” Just wanted to point out that the word “relations” is defined as “an existing connection; a significant association between or among things” (dictionary.com). A rape victim has no existing connections with her/his captor. To suggest that “no sexual relations except with husband/wife” includes rape is offensive to rape victims across the world and across religions- LDS or not. To have relations with someone suggests that there are existing ties of friendship, love, kindness, etc. Rape is violating these relations because a rape victim has no existing connection to his/her captor, and if they do have existing ties of friendship/kinship, then those ties and relations were made void as soon as the captor rapes his/her victim.

    It is offensive that people are fighting about whether Elizabeth Smart was saying was this or was that. She didn’t spend 9 months in hell and walk away deciding that she would educate and empower rape vicitms over the world to have people fighting about whether what she was saying had to do with the way she was raised or what she was taught in school. She is teaching empowerment, self worth, and giving rape victims and future rape victims the tools they need to overcome what they went through and still know that they have self worth no matter what is taken from them. Shame on all of you who are turning her words into arguements about things she wouldn’t want us to argue about. She gave that message to empower people, not to raise political arguements. How about you spend your time spreading her message (in whatever ways you interpret it) to your own children and families and empower them through her words. That is what she wants us to do…not argue about what her message “really” means.

  36. LDS Liberal


    To suggest that “no sexual relations except with husband/wife” includes rape is offensive to rape victims across the world and across religions- LDS or not.


    Quite the contrary.
    My point is, and always has been that “victims” are not guilty.

    And “We” have done, and continue to do a huge dis-service to our young people by suggesting virtue based on virginity is FALSE doctrine, and the stupid analogy of “Already Been Chewed gum” or “licked cup cakes” makes the victim feel used, un-wanted, chew gum.

    I’m for the victim’s rights,
    not the “all-or-nothingistic” religious purists gross misinterpretations to scare children into doing what’s right.

  37. Margie10

    Thank you for writing this. I wrote an article about it the same night the articles came out. I was furious with how her message was twisted. I was attacked so bad by someone (still doing it days later!) and being a fairly inactive member, I even started to doubt what I wrote! Thankfully, I found this and an article on LDS Living linking to another good one. THANK YOU!

  38. John Lambert

    I have to say some of the comments above make no sense at all. To claim the victim of rape is breaking temple covenants makes no sense at all. A person who is raped is not guilty, they are the victim. What next, will we say murder victims are breaking the 10 commandments. That is just total nonsense. Rape Victims are forced to do something, they are not at all guilty.

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