Don’t believe everything you read in the news

My story for the Deseret News.

My story for the Deseret News.

I don’t often write about my job, but after thinking this over for the last two days I’ve decided I should.

On Monday evening our desk was sent a tip about a recent presentation that Elizabeth Smart made at a human trafficking forum at Johns Hopkins. We put our feelers out to see if another desk had something in the works, but we concluded that there wasn’t anything coming.

My boss then tasked me to write up a piece and get it online.

I had been sent a video link from our social media specialist and was able to watch her speech in its entirety. And I did, several times. I was also sent a link to a brief from the Christian Science Monitor. I read through it and did my own google search.

I was confused. The reports that I was reading seemed to have come from a different forum, at the very least a different person. Yes, some of the quotes were the same, but her words had been taken grossly out of context.

So I watched the video again, just to be sure. You should watch it too.

Smart wasn’t suggesting that teaching abstinence had made her feel worthless after being raped, as some sources concluded.

Smart wasn’t saying that because of her religious teachings that she felt like a “chewed up piece of gum.” The gum analogy came from a school teacher (by the way). But again, that was stretched.

Many sources simply took a few quotes (particularly about the chewing gum) and built a story and idea around just that.

I even received emails from a few people frustrated that I didn’t focus my story in the Deseret News around that.

But do you know why I didn’t? Because that’s not what Smart focused on.

I watched the video, several times.

The message that I gathered from the elegant Smart was the importance of educating children about human trafficking, teaching them to be prepared because parents won’t be able to be with their children every second of the day (or night), and also to instill in these children a strong sense of self-worth, so should they ever (heaven forbid) be trafficked they would have the strength to overcome.

Smart was raped. She felt worthless because of it. I don’t think she would have felt less worthless if her school teacher hadn’t taught that abstinence before marriage is ideal, or if her parents hadn’t taught her the sacredness of intimacy. In fact, it was her parents love and teachings that pulled her through her nine months in captivity.

She came to the realization that her parents would love her no matter what. No matter what had happened to her, or what she had been through, they would love her. And the hope of being reunited with her loving parents kept her going.

There was no hidden agenda about discontinuing abstinence instruction. Her message was one of hope. It was centered around the value of a soul, and how important it is that every child know their value.

I was disappointed with the media when I read their reports, because I have a strong belief in the power and the responsibility of the media. They took this and ran wild with it. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who saw things as they really were. Jay Evensen wrote a post for the Deseret News on the media’s reaction to Smart’s words, which I really appreciated.

—————

On a side note, as a mother I can’t imagine the horror of having a child experience such things. It would be my worst nightmare and why I pray for their safety all day, all night, every day and every night.

While I do shower my children with love and praise, and always strive to build within them a strong core and sense of worth, her words made me want to do more. Her words made me want to teach more, prepare more and give even more love.

It has been my hope, from the time each of them were placed in my arms for the first time, that they would know that I love them and I always will, no matter what. No matter what.

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59 thoughts on “Don’t believe everything you read in the news

  1. Thank you for your article. I was surprised as well and felt the things I read were not talking about the speech at all because they were so different!

  2. I too watched E. Smart’s presentation. I thought her message was very clear, straight forward and positive. She has definitely developed into a strong, well-spoken woman. The media did exactly what I had expected them to do: distort and manipulate her message to suit their own agenda. Cheers for Elizabeth Smart!!! Shame on you, media!!!

    • Elizabeth Smart was so elegant and has such an inner strength. I so appreciated her message of hope. It is sad when the media takes a positive message like hers and twists it for their own benefit, or even because they were too lazy to do the work. It’s sad.

  3. Regardless of what Elizabeth did or did not mean (no one can really know but her), I don’t think there’s any doubt that teaching kids only that sex is dirty and sinful can lead to painful results. The church has a bit of a bumbling history when it comes to sex education, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting and confronting that reality.

    • Of course teaching children that sex is filthy and sinful will lead to future heartache for them. Even for those who do not experience any kind of sexual abuse will still struggle when they are married to cope with a quick shift in attitude towards sex. (One minute it’s bad, the next it’s okay.)

      However, Elizabeth didn’t say that her parents or even her school teacher taught that sex was dirty and sinful. While the chewing gum analogy her school teacher gave caused Elizabeth distress, she did not say that she was taught that sex was bad. She also spoke very positively about what her parents had taught her about sex…that it was a beautiful, sacred thing and it should be saved for marriage. Her parents were not wrong in teaching her that. I have such great respect for Elizabeth and her parents. Her parents taught her well and gave her strength.

      I also don’t believe that it is the responsibility of any church (or school) to be in charge of teaching a child about sex, that right and responsibility belongs to the parents.

      • When I grew up, my mentors taught that playing basket ball was evil unless I waited until it was past midnight on Sunday. To this day I can’t pick that I may be doing it at the wrong minute. up a ball without feeling vaguely uneasy that I might be doing so at the wrong minute. I know everyone says it’s so special when you’re in the zone. but how can the game be great one minute and bad the next?

        What about the evils of peer pressure? They’re bad when they try to get you to break the WoW but good when they want you to be an eagle scout?

        We’ve been sold a type of relative morality, whether it be obedience, activity, sport or sex. It will never make sense and it will always harm without regard to good intentions or noble objectives. My experience shows me that parents are not the best sole source on sexuality for the simple reason that they don’t know very much about it either and marriage ceremony doesn’t cure ignorance.

        Abstinence education is plan with no recovery plan when plan A fails. It’s not only wishful thinking, but a belief that the suffering of failures makes a stronger incentive. Abstinence education makes as much sense as building mountain roads with no guardrails.

        Why if we possess the full truth do we, especially our young women, have such profound problems with sex, eating and self-esteem? Why is the message so many ways of saying if you make no mistakes you are worthy but every error makes you another bit of chewed gum, nibbled cake or crushed flower?

        The problem is not the gospel, the church, the schools or the media. It is the culture that transforms truths to commandments, laws and programs to make management easier and superficial discrimination simpler than critical moral judgment. Elizabeth Smart is not a fountain of wisdom but she if for only a moment that the emporer had no clothes and had the simple courage to say so. For that she deserves respect.

      • I think that there are definitely opportunities for good supplemental sex education instruction, but I do think that the primary teachers should be the parents. And if the parents don’t know much about it, it’s their responsibility to learn and to then teach their children. I acknowledge that there are a lot of parents out there that don’t know a lot, and they don’t take the time to learn what they need to know, but I still maintain it is their responsibility to teach their children about intimacy. I wouldn’t want a school health teacher teaching my children about sex, what if their religious and value beliefs are different than what I am teaching my children? Parents should take an active role in guiding and directing their children.

        What the teacher failed to address in the chewing gum analogy was that if something is robbed from a woman, that does not diminish her value in any way. I think the failure is not in teaching abstinence only, but in not teaching about the power of the Atonement alongside it. The Atonement provides room for healing and becoming whole again.

        I don’t think that creating a high expectation for young people to remain morally clean is a bad thing. But I do think there needs to be an understanding that morality is not tied to worth. The worth, the value is there, period. Ever soul has such great value, despite what their life experiences may be, despite what has been taken from them, or despite poor choices.

      • I agree with you except about the responsibility of who should teach sex. Should parents teach about it? Of course! Sadly though, there are a lot of parents who don’t teach their children and the only way they can is through school. I have a friend who found out about sex by her friends telling her and from school because her parents refused to discuss it with her. They told her it’s what two people did when they were married and left it at that. The idea of kids being taught by their parents is nice in theory but hardly piratical.

      • I know there are many parents who refuse to talk to their kids about sex. And I think that’s incredibly sad. I do realize that the schools and friends are usually the ones that end up doing the parents’ job for them. I think now more than ever that parents need to step in and be a guide and teacher to their children. They need to take a more active role in parenting. But I do think you’re right, many parents just won’t.

      • There is a *public* health interest in teaching kids about safe sex. There is a collective interest in keeping kids safe. There is an interest society has in creating well-adjusted, healthy adults out of our teenagers. It is very much a school’s responsibility to teach these things to kids. When did the simple presence of information become a threat?

    • I am a member of the church and at no time have I taught my children that sex is dirty and sinful; because it is not. I have instead taught them that sex is a sacred power that was given to us by our Heavenly Father as a way to build and express love as a couple and as the way to bring children into a family. I have taught them that while it is good and natural there is a proper time for its use and that is after marriage. That after all is how my parents and church leaders taught me….

      • I appreciate your comment. I think your experience and what you are teaching your own children is not uncommon in the LDS church. I think many people would like to believe that it is not common practice to teach children about sex in this way. I am also a member of the church and I am teaching my children the same things, and I see many others doing the same. It seems that sometimes people will take the actions of imperfect people and blame the church.

    • What “church” are you whining about? I’ve been attending the LDS Church for 6 decades and my wife and children and I all agree that all teaching we’ve heard from Church leaders has been that sex is a beautiful thing reserved for marriage. Yes, I ONCE heard a teacher use the chewing gum, but I’ve heard all kinds of people say all kinds of stupid things… just like your comments were. Anti’s love to say faithful people are living under a rock or have their head in the sand and only the whiner is being realistic. Nonsense. We’ve just got perspective and live our lives as best we can, repenting (hopefully) so we change bad behavior. So drop the stereotype thinking and speak for your own experience.

    • I think that everyone has a bumbling history with sex, including sex education. The church is trying to balance a lot of factors: sexual morality is good, but sexual behavior is intimate and private, sexual education is good, but taining young minds with quasi-pornography is bad, especially for the less mature etc. etc.

    • The church teaches that sex is sacred. The people who say anything else are liers. They probably lie about the church because they, themselves have rebelled against the sacredness of sex.

    • I am not sure where anyone is getting the notion that Elizabeth, or anybody else affiliated with her culture and faith, has been taught that sex is “dirty and sinful.” Nothing could be further from the truth. We are commanded to “multiply and replenish” the earth. To my knowledge there is only one way to accomplish that. Yes, that means having sex. Sex, or whatever one wants to call it, is a beautiful and desirable experience, one that God wants us to experience and enjoy. This is of course an activity that is to be considered special and sacred, and undertaken at the right place, time and with the right person……between a married man and woman. Not sure how that instruction equates to anybody expressing such as “dirty” or “sinful.” Your thoughts, of what you apparently know very little of, are a little off base.

    • You missed an important point. Smart was taught by her teacher that sex OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE was sinful…not that sex in and of itself is dirty or sinful.

  4. I’ll admit to being critical about the media. The only reason I keep up with the news and articles is because I enjoy talking about recent events with my husband. However, I appreciate your belief in the power of the media, and the stance you took here.

    Good for you.

    • Thank you for your comment. I think it’s important to keep up on current events, but to look at things with a critical eye. That’s wise. And I definitely enjoy talking about current events with my husband too.

    • I’m sure the teacher did not mean to cause such distress, but was only trying to illustrate a point. No one is perfect. But perhaps next time the teacher can illustrate the point more delicately.

    • Again, I am positive her teacher never taught that sex was sinful or shameful….she taught that sex outside of marriage is sinful and shameful – big difference. Smart is LDS. Her teacher was most probably LDS – LDS people believe that sex outside of marriage is sinful as do Catholics and many other religious people.

  5. Although I think it an obvious precaution to distrust most news sources, after reading this article and watching Smart’s lecture, I can see clearly why some journalists chose to focus on the things she said concerning abstinence education. Each person’s perception of what another person is saying is predetermined by their own bias and their understanding of life and what is important. If I am a religious person that believes in abstinence, and I am a mormon like Elizabeth Smart, I am not going to draw the conclusion that she is in opposition to abstinence education but rather focus on something else inspiring that she said in this lecture. However, if I am someone who already thinks abstinence education is harmful to young adults, then hearing this address is going to further support my beliefs.
    Journalists aren’t immune to bias and basic human flaw. I don’t blame anyone for writing what they write in news articles, because there is no way to accurately know somebody else’s intentions. Although most would agree it’s ideal to write objectively, that practice died in the 60s, and blaming journalists is no replacement for cultivating analytical skill and introspection.

    • It’s true that journalists are not immune to their own personal bias, but I still believe that every journalist should try their best to accurately portray the facts. As someone who works in the news industry, I see journalists do just that every day. They research, they talk to people, they work hard to write a balanced story. My purpose in writing this post was to hopefully encourage news consumers to be more actively engaged and research things out themselves (like you said, cultivate analytical skills and introspection). I would hope that after reading a few stories from different sources on Elizabeth Smart’s presentation that people would have taken the time to actually watch and listen to her speech.

      • I think you also need to be careful not to confuse journalism with blogs and other online commentary. I noticed you didn’t link to any of the pieces that you felt took Ms. Smart’s comments out of context. Was it the New York Times? The Washington Post? Or were they blogs and websites that don’t pretend to be journalists in the first place? An important distinction.

      • I heard comments similar to what was described here, pointing out that Ms. Smart had felt harmed by abstinence education, on news radio here in Ohio. It wasn’t a matter of a blogger here or there.

  6. I actually question the value of teaching children how to avoid human trafficking. Social programs to eliminate poverty and to find and punish exploiters are helpful. Middle class US children are not the ones who end up in human trafficking. Poverty is a key driver. In ASEAN countries, many children are actually sold into human trafficking by their families. Human trafficking has very little connection to kidnapping or to ES’s experience, as horrific as it was.

    • You’re right, human trafficking is often driven by poverty. I don’t know what can be done to teach young children about human trafficking. But I do believe, like Elizabeth Smart said, that there is great value in teaching children that their value and their worth is not tied to the horrible things that have been done to them. I don’t know how that would be taught to reach children across the board though. It is a very difficult task, especially, as you said, when families are selling their own children.

    • Angela, as a PhD student studying human trafficking and victimized children, I have to respectfully disagree with your comment. Kidnapping does indeed connect to human trafficking (in 1st world countries this is one of the major ways children find themselves caught up in trafficking rings), and while yes, poverty does play a huge role in one’s likelihood of being trafficked, it is shortsighted for us to say that middle-class or even upper-class children aren’t forcefully taken from their home, abducted in public, or when they’re simply walking down the street, etc and trafficked. The Smart family is not poverty-striken, and it definitely happened to them (and their child). We have another prime example of that in the news right now with those three women who were abducted in Ohio. Additionally, I know individuals who work for NGOs that deal with preventing sex trafficking in the USA who state that predators often stake-out their victims in shopping malls by simply looking for children/teenagers who show behaviors of low self-esteem. For instance, one of them said that if you can walk up to a shy girl and compliment her on her eyes or other physical features and she looks away and mutters something unintelligible because she’s embarrassed, you’ve found an easy target for trafficking. Why? Because she is more likely to latch on to someone who pays attention to her and thinks she’s pretty, and promises her all sorts of things by painting a better life elsewhere, etc. That’s not to say that all young, timid girls will be trafficked. But its easier and more prevalent than we like to think.

      Oftentimes our own definitions and perceptions of trafficking are far too narrow. This is a mistake that many of us make (I certainly did before I started on my research). The United States Department of State and the UN define trafficking by citing the Palermo Protocol: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons” via “threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability and giving of payments or benefits.” For more about that, here’s the link – http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html. Therefore, in trafficking’s broadest sense, kidnapping is a form of trafficking. Not to mention that kidnapping usually leads to other forms of abuse and/or exploitation such as forced begging, sexual favors, etc, etc, etc. Additionally, an individual does not have to be moved from one locale to another in order to be a trafficking victim. Other Department of State documents elaborate on trafficking and exploitation by saying, “a person may be a trafficking victim regardless of whether they once consented, participated in a crime as a direct result of being trafficked, were transported into the exploitive situation, or were simply born into a state of servitude. At the heart of this phenomenon are the myriad of forms of enslavement – not the activities involved in international [or domestic] transportation.” (United States. TIP Report 2010, 8).

      Resolving trafficking trends and preventing future victims will not be easy, and there’s definitely no easy solution. You’re totally right, perpetrators must be brought to justice, and in most cases, their punishment *could* be more harsh. Our system needs to be more consistent about that, for sure. But children/teenagers must be aware of how predators function, and they must be taught how to pick up on signs in order to protect themselves. Parents must be more involved in their children’s lives, provide the love and support that all children need and deserve, and become more educated as to what trafficking is. In fact, so do we as members of society. We as a society must also take of the blinders and realize that trafficking is a much bigger, more complicated issue than we want to acknowledge or previously thought.

  7. Have you considered that many people who live in the Mormon corridor may not hear something that outsiders do? Sometimes in the midst of our own culture, we can’t see the forest for the trees. I also watched the entire video. It’s striking. Her attitude about sexuality is clearly painted by her Mormon upbringing. Her feelings of worthlessness are inextricably tied the way we tie a young woman’s value to chastity. I heard all these object lessons in seminary in jr. high and high school, and even then I thought it was strange that all the onus was put on women.

    • I know that each of us have our own bias, and we see (or don’t see) things based on those biases. Yes her attitude towards sex was shaped by her upbringing, but from what she said, her parents instilled in her a strong sense of love, which was the thing that helped her realize that she had value no matter what. I don’t think the school teacher should have used the analogy that they did to illustrate the idea of abstinence. I personally had never heard that analogy growing up, but I did feel a strong burden of guilt. My hope is that I can teach my children to never mistake their value ever.

  8. Thank you so much for taking the time to do the research. I also read one of the articles and recognized the agenda to demonize teaching abstinence. Bless you.

    • The thing is, sex is part of the broader human condition; promotion of teaching abstinence is also pushing an agenda. It pushes an agenda that talks in terms of sacred/profane (and there are lots of LDS folks here including the author using the word ‘sacred’ — it has its implied ‘profane’ projected onto every pre-marital sexual thought). It is one thing to tell kids this in church (because it is a voluntary association). To suggest teaching abstinence and nothing else into a secular institution charged with educating growing individuals about public health matters — including the ability to protect oneself — is improper. Public schools need not be a compass for narrow moral constraint or belief — that matter of taste is better a subject of parenting. Rather, schools should be charged with teaching kids how to maintain their physical safety, human dignity, and self-esteem in intimate relationships with others; and to avoid dangerous situations from those who might use them in de-humanizing ways. Teaching that abstaining from sex is a very good way to avoid STDs and pregnancy? Of course. But what place is it for the community standards of a secular, pluralistic public institution to be dictated by any group with an agenda to keep the word “condom” out of the lexicon of a health class?

  9. If it wasn’t relative, why would Elizabeth have mentioned the chewed gum story?? Clearly it had the impact she stated it did — to make her feel used up! Yes, thankfully her parents’ strong foundation of love for her helped her overcome the awful stigma from the chewed gum “lesson”, yet obviously the “lesson” had done enough damage & made a strong impression that it had to be OVERCOME.

  10. I see where you’re coming from, and she didn’t sound like a proponent for a liberal agenda for sex education as the media twisted (I watched the whole speech a few days ago before reading any articles).

    However, Elizabeth did say that she had to sacrifice many of her morals in order to survive the ordeal, which could be interpreted as making a conscious decision to submit to her abusers (sexually) in order to protect her life and her family from further harm. She also articulated a very direct link with her loss of sexual purity (even though raped) and intense feelings of worthlessness. She painted that picture very clearly and focused a good portion of her speech on it. Why would she bring up the chewed gum analogy, if not to highlight it as a cause of intense hardship, knowing that your most valued possession in life, virtue, is no longer part of your identity? Why would she discuss sacrificing her morals and having no regrets about it, if not to emphasize that she had to make conscious decisions to override her childhood understanding of sexuality and self worth, which was taught to her in a “very religious” home and “at a school in Salt Lake City” which everyone knows is an area heavily influenced by LDS culture and teachings.

    In most media outlets, they did miss the mark in focusing on the education of children about human trafficking, clearly. But your analysis of dialing her speech away from references to harmful effects of abstinence/vitrue education is incomplete. As a survivor of sexual abuse in my childhood, and as an active, faithful LDS woman, I know all too well the intense feelings of worthlessness she felt and how those feelings are compounded by constant emphasis that your virtue as a woman is most importantly marked by your sexual purity. It should not be overemphasized in the media, but also, certainly should not be glazed over to bias LDS culture.

    • I appreciate your perspective. Thank you for your comment. I strongly believe that young women need to be taught that their worth and value does not hinge on their sexual purity, especially in cases of rape and sexual abuse. Girls (and boys) should be taught that their worth is inherent to them as a person, as a child of God. I watched someone very close to me suffer years and years of guilt not because of anything she had done, but because of the sexual abuse she had suffered. She felt worthless because of what had happened to her. And I can only speak from the position of someone on the outside looking in, but her worth and value was so great in my eyes. She is one of the most amazing people I know and it was hard for me, for years, to understand how she could possibly feel less because of something that had happened to her. But I do understand now why she felt the way she did. It is my hope that all young girls can realize their worth.

    • It’s not my intent to pick on you, MJ, but your comment is good example of why this Mormon culture has failed to effectively address sexuality, both consensual and coerced. I can see we agree on several points, but …

      I am an active, even devout, LDS male and I am also more liberal than liberal in my social, political and economic opinions something which I think my testimony requires (I am at heart a democratic socialist but currently a registered Green). I am a scientist and engineer by training and a teacher by disposition. In my engineer role one critical aspect I expect in every design is that it not fail catastrophically when one small part fails locally. That means a good design has to have inherent redundancy. A good plan for life must too. Abstinence education does not have that redundancy. The opposite of abstinence is not promiscuity. Abstinence is just one point in a spectrum of hues and intensities.

      If there is a liberal agenda for sex ed, nobody has shared it with me, no talking points, no memos, no meetings have ever put forward such a thing. It’s only existence is as a straw-man for the conservatives to use to persuade. There is no liberal version of CPAC. Liberals don’t need to meet and agree on agendas, they feel they a principles based not agenda based.

      Morals are concepts of what is right or wrong. One does not lose or sacrifice concepts once formed. Ms Smart may not have been able to live in conformity to her morals but she never sacrificed them. As one can’t lose morals neither can one lose worth or value. Each one of us is born into this world with equal value, that never changes as we live. If others fail to recognize or to deny that value, they are lying to us and to themselves. Our value does not depend on a false economy of that type. There is no market in value, worth, or morals. When you think there is, you confuse value with price, worth with scarcity and morals with rules.

      Your comments illustrate that we are all prisoners of our words and thoughts. It is extremely difficult to think of things we don’t know and can’t name. The vocabulary in each of the comments points to the attitudes of the writer and foretells the conclusions. Ideas of objectivity, purity, virtue are very much personal constructs: there is no quantifiable measure of any of them, they reflect the judgements of the individual. They reflect the limits of their owner’s mental vocabulary. Empathy, creativity and wisdom are rare.

      Peace

  11. There’s so much sincerity & concern in your voice; I truly thank you for being so careful. I do think, however, that though being raped is in my mind the rock bottom of human misery, that teachings from any authority figure, be they scholastic or religious, about a person’s worth being in any way dependent on sexual purity do add a layer of suffering beyond what is already so, so much to bear.

  12. I wrote a piece about her speech for Huffington Post. FYI, for the post I wrote, I pulled quotes directly from her speech. I watched it several times. I didn’t think she bashed abstinence teaching, either. But she did make a clear connection between the shaming messages she received about premarital sex and the shame she felt after being raped . . . that was quite clear.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristen-howerton/damaging-effects-of-shame-based-sex-education-lessons-from-elizabeth-smart_b_3226971.html

    • Thanks for sharing your article. I also pulled quotes directly from her speech after watching it several times. My frustration stemmed from a few news sources trying to make it seem as if Elizabeth was trying to speak out against abstinence education. I agree that the message she heard from her teacher was damaging and that she did not share it with the hope to end abstinence only sex education.

  13. “… the failure is not in teaching abstinence only, but in not teaching about the power of the Atonement alongside it. The Atonement provides room for healing and becoming whole again.

    … there needs to be an understanding that morality is not tied to worth. The worth, the value is there, period. Every soul has such great value, despite what their life experiences may be, despite what has been taken from them, or despite poor choices.”

    I just wanted to thank you for making these two points in a reply to a previous comment. They summarize what I was thinking exactly and are beautifully written.
    You are an excellent writer. I hope to someday be as good as you.

    • I echo Tessa’s comment. The joy is in the overcoming sin. And honestly – does anyone really still think that Elizabeth was taught that sex is ugly, unclean and wrong? Stop making that an issue. it’s as bad as what the media did to the original details.

  14. This post would be more powerful of you embedded the video of that speechand challenged your readers to see if you were right.

  15. Pingback: A Much-Needed Correction regarding Elizabeth Smart and Church Teachings Regarding Chastity, Abstinence, and Rape

  16. She definitely DID make it clear that one thing that kept her from more actively fighting her captors was the idea that being raped took away her value as a human being.

  17. Good article… I was very disturbed about the way the media spun Mrs. Smart’s comments as if she was denouncing abstinence education, or as if we shouldn’t be looking for some way to teach our children to wait until marriage to engage in sexual activity. After watching the video, I felt she deserved better coverage over what she was really saying, particularly regarding better education.
    I must say that we all need to make it VERY CLEAR that sex is not the same as rape or sexual abuse. We should be teaching our children about sex: that it is a sacred and heavenly act meant for a husband and wife to consensually join together as one flesh, to build strong emotional ties to one another, and to procreate that we may have joy in nurturing and raising children together. We should explain why abstinence before marriage is right: that it is a commandment of God; that sex is the joining of two souls, both bodies and spirits uniting as one, and that such a union should be engaged in after the sacred promises and covenants of marriage have been entered into; that, as one of the prime purposes of sex is to have children, sex is to be engaged in by a couple ready and willing to accept the responsibility of parenthood (which a marital contract assumes), for every child is entitled to the stability offered by a virtuous father and mother. We need to teach our children that if they choose to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage, that they have sinned against God’s commandments, that feelings of guilt are meant to inspire us toward repentance, and that they can be cleansed of their sins and made pure through the atonement of Christ (this is why sexual education and religion can not be separated – and why public sexual education fails).
    We should also be teaching our children about rape and sexual abuse: that it is a violent act; that it is a crime; that perpetrators are stained by their iniquitous acts while victims have done nothing wrong; that God loves each victim and desires their escape, and that justice awaits the perpetrators, whether it be in this life or after. We need to teach our children to be open in their communication about sexual activity, and that any acts of abuse should be reported to parents and the police.

  18. When I first read an article suggesting Smart said she felt like a chewed up piece of gum, and that this was due to the teaching of an ideal, I assumed the author took her words out of context, that Smart’s understanding went deeper than that, from both sides. It is nice to have my suppositions about Smart’s character confirmed.

  19. Thank you for writing on your perspective. I love the open dialogue of the internet and value hearing sincere and honest well-thought opinions. I have to disagree with you and say that while it’s clear Elizabeth Smart’s comment about the gum analogy was not her main point, she does state clearly and specifically that it was a thought that had a powerful negative influence over her. It is also obviously something that has resonated with a lot of people who both are and are not LDS and I don’t think that anyone who considers it fairly and objectively believes that it is a teaching of the church. I personally was taught that analogy 20 years ago at an LDS combined standards night and even as a young man it angered me. It has nothing to do with teaching that intimacy is sacred. It’s a scare tactic that fundamentally teaches someone that their self-worth is in the hands and opinions of other people and that repentance doesn’t really wash away the past or create true forgiveness__ even though some people don’t look at it critically enough to see it that way. There’s nothing empowering about it. There is nothing Christ-like about it. The force of the analogy is requisite to the idea that the person will always be undesirable after the fact, regardless of the circumstances at the time or down the road. I’ve always been an active member of the church and now have daughters and have worked for years with the young men. I find it very important for the health and understanding of both genders that we all stamp out misguided and dangerous thinking like referring to a woman’s chastity and worth in such a reductive analogy as a chewed piece of gum, a licked cupcake, a dirty cookie, etc. They are women and daughters of God and that is all, regardless of their past, regardless of circumstance or decisions. Again, thank you for writing. I hope you continue to do so.

    • Nail on the head Risser. Agree wholeheartedly. Thank you!
      As LDS, I believe as members we need to strive be more understanding and accepting in many more ways that we teach and judge one another. The principles are true, but many “tactics” and attitudes do need improvement. Many are carried on because of old world traditions and LDS “culture”, rather than because of their root in truth.
      And it is this real live “truth” that our children need to become familiar with. It’s learning true principles that will give them the self worth they need to withstand the opposition in their lives. And yes, some of that opposition will be false information, whether it comes by media or a temporarily? thoughtless teacher.

  20. All media will take their own bias. I include both East-coast urban papers and publishers with an explicitly religious agenda for the news. There are multiple “correct” interpretations (polysemi) of this story. I think it would be wrong to single out any of these interpretations as incorrect. They are going to reflect the lens of their authors, publications, and the culture in which they are written. Rhetorical scholar Kenneth Burke suggested that in looking for meaning, you should look at a message for things that are either frequent or intense, or both. The East-coast journalists pick up on the intense parts, and you pick up on the frequent parts of Smart’s speech?

    I do think that there is a good point to avoid institutional bias here (a metro daily I worked for in CA was bought by a guy who suggested that the news and sports pages ought to be “cheerleaders” for local business interests), but I am not sure that is what is at work. I’m doubtful that the journalists elsewhere seeing this speech approached it with an agenda just as much as I’m doubtful that most folks in the Deseret News newsroom are approaching stories like this with L. Glen Snarr’s old admonition that the news ought to reflect the interests of the owner (FWIW, I was told as much at a job interview at KSL in the mid ’90s). We’re all human, coming from different cultural contexts. There is nothing wrong with seeing this story, its cultural significance — and the same speech — through different lenses.

  21. Pingback: A person’s worth should never be tied to sex | create.write.balance

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