Elizabeth Smart discusses ‘purity culture,’ feminism in online interview

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Elizabeth Smart talks with the media after HB286 passed the House 73-0 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City Thursday, February 27, 2014. The bill will allow elementary schools to provide instruction to parents and kids on preventing child sexual abuse. It was approved 73-0, and was sent to the Senate. Smart was kidnapped from her home in 2002.

In an in-depth profile published Thursday, Elizabeth Smart reiterated her beliefs about how abstinence-focused teachings can be harmful to young women — especially those who've been victims of sexual assault.

Smart has credited her Mormon faith with helping her through the nine months she was held captive and repeatedly raped by Brian David Mitchell, who kidnapped her from her Salt Lake City home in 2002, when she was 14.

"But I also think there's another side of it that can be potentially very harmful, especially when a lot of religions teach that sexual relations are meant for marriage," Smart told Molly Oswaks of Broadly, part of online newsmagazine VICE. "It's so stressed that girls in particular tie their worth to their virginity, or, for lack of a better word, purity."

Smart, 28, tells Oswaks that she cringed through analogies about purity during LDS seminary classes in high school, wondering if the teachers knew how their words — no one wants chewed-up gum, you can repaint a fence but you can't hide the holes — were landing.

"Those are terrible analogies. No one should use them, period. Especially for someone who's been raped, they've already felt these feelings of worthlessness, of filth, of just ... being so crushed, and then to hear a teacher come back and say, 'Nobody wants you now'... You just think, I should just die right now."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has said that its policy is that victims of sexual assault have "not in any way had their virtue or value taken from them" and that "victims should be reminded that God loves them and they are not responsible for the actions of another person, nor do the actions of another person, particularly in cases of sexual assault and abuse, impact their virtue and value."

Efforts to widen sex education in Utah's public schools — which follow an abstinence-based model — have repeatedly failed.

The Broadly story also discusses feminism, a lightning rod in the LDS Church as some women agitate for the priesthood to be open to both sexes. Read the full story here.