Elizabeth Smart, the Utah teenager who was abducted in 2002 from her Salt Lake City home and held captive for nine months, has never met Jaycee Dugard, but she has a message for the California woman who spent a harrowing 18 years in captivity before being rescued in 2009, and sharing her story very publicly this week in a new book and exclusive interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer.
"I would tell her how much I admire her, for her courage, her strength," Smart said today on "Good Morning America." "She is certainly to be admired for her coming out and not living in the shadow of her past."
Smart, now a 23-year-old college student at Brigham Young University in Utah, also sees a lesson in Dugard's story, a lesson on which she is acting.
"What her story shows is there are still children out there waiting to be found," Smart said on "GMA."
For Smart, acting on that lesson means raising her voice as an advocate for children, something she has done with her newly created foundation, the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, and with her new role, confirmed today on "GMA," as a contributor for ABC News.
"I am thrilled to be working with ABC," Smart said today. "I think there's a real power in partnering up. I really believe we can do some good together."
A Unique Perspective
Smart was just 14 years old when she was kidnapped at knifepoint from her bedroom as her then 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, watched from her own bed, and the sisters' four siblings and parents, Ed and Lois Smart, slept nearby.
Smart's disappearance in 2002 both unnerved and united the nation as people everywhere sent their prayers and support, and the national media closely followed every step in the search to find her.
Her captor was Brian David Mitchell, a homeless, Salt Lake City street preacher who, along with his companion, Wanda Barzee, held Smart captive, both psychologically and physically, for nine months before she was found alive March 12, 2003, by alert passers-by in a Salt Lake City suburb less than 18 miles from her home.
This May, with the help of Smart's emotionally grueling testimony, Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison.
Smart bravely addressed her former captor face-to-face in a packed Salt Lake City courtroom just moments before he received his life sentence, telling Mitchell that "one day he will have to be held responsible for his actions," and that she has a "wonderful life now."
For Smart, having a "wonderful life" means using her voice and visibility to be an advocate for protecting children from abuse and abduction.
She has been a visible presence on Capitol Hill lobbying for funding and children's rights issues, something she told "GMA" will continue to be a top priority.
"One of the issues I would really like to address today is right now in Washington there is so much talk of funding and cutting funding," she said. "It is so essential we not cut any funding related to children." She and her family also established the Elizabeth Smart Foundation this year as a platform to use their experiences over the past nine years to focus on protecting children from falling victim to kidnapping and sexual crimes.
One centerpiece of the foundation is a child empowerment program called RAD (Resisting Aggression Defensively) Kids that aims to teach children the skills that will empower them to fight off potential kidnappers and abusers.
Another main objective, Smart told "GMA," is to use her visibility to promote the "Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force," a multi-jurisdictional group helps state and local law enforcement agencies respond to cybercrimes against kids.
"The Foundation is really helping to push and support the Internet Task Force as much as possible," she said. "It's really something we just can't afford to cut."
The American public, so captivated and overjoyed by Smart's safe return, has also marveled as the shy teenager they first saw rescued in 2003 has emerged into the poised, well-spoken young adult she is today.
"Recovery is different for every individual," Smart said of her transition back. "For me, my mom pointed out that I could live in the past and hold on to what this man did to me, or I could choose to not give another minute of my life to this man and do what I want to do. That was the path I chose." After graduating from high school in Salt Lake City, Smart enrolled as a music student at Brigham Young University and, most recently, spent 18 months in France on a mission in accordance with her Mormon faith and involvement in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Smart returned from her mission in April and is headed back to Brigham Young to complete her bachelor's degree in music. She begins her senior year in the fall.
"I certainly have come a very long way from June of 2003," Smart told "GMA." "I try to always be looking forward and have hope for the future."
Smart will remain based in Utah as she begins her new position with ABC News.
For more information on the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, visit their website: www.elizabethsmartfoundation.org.
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