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Elizabeth Smart says she was sexually assaulted on plane last summer

Elizabeth Smart speaks during a panel discussion titled “Smart Talks: I’ve Never Told Anyone” at Brigham Young University in Provo on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017.
Elizabeth Smart speaks during a panel discussion titled “Smart Talks: I’ve Never Told Anyone” at Brigham Young University in Provo on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

PARK CITY — Elizabeth Smart says she was sexually assaulted on an airplane while flying back to Utah from a vacation over the summer.

Smart made the revelation Thursday to Gayle King on “CBS This Morning.”

“I’ve always felt safe on an airplane. I’ve never been worried, I’ve never felt threatened on an airplane until now,” she said.

Smart, 32, made worldwide headlines in 2002 when she was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City’s Federal Heights neighborhood at the age of 14, and then held hostage and sexually assaulted for nine months by Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee.

Last summer, she said she was asleep on a Delta flight headed back to Salt Lake City when the man seated next to her began rubbing her inner thigh.

“I was shocked. I mean, the last time someone touched me without my say-so was when I was kidnapped. And I froze. I didn’t know what to do,” she said on the morning TV show.

Smart said the man did not apologize or say anything at all to her. She said she couldn’t believe this was happening to her, of all people.

“I kept saying to myself, ‘You’re Elizabeth Smart. You should know what to do,” she recalled. “I called up my husband, and I was saying, ‘Do I just have a big badge on my forehead that says easy prey? Or victim? Because I am sick of it.”

Because of that experience, Smart, with the help of her husband, started a program called Smart Defense in Salt Lake City.

“It just kind of of hit me in the gut thinking, ‘We’re not doing enough. I’m not doing enough,” she said.

Smart Defense, part of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, empowers girls and women by teaching self-defense skills in classes designed by mixed martial arts and law enforcement experts. The goal of the program is to help women “prevent, ward off and fight back against sexual assault in a safe, controlled environment by highly vetted and experienced trainers,” according to the website.

“We’re not training them to be assassins. We are trying to train them to give them an opportunity to get away,” Smart said.

Smart said she doesn’t know if having such skills when she was 14 would have prevented her from being kidnapped from her home. But she believes it would have given her a chance to get away during the 3-mile walk she was forced to endure as Mitchell led her to his hidden campsite deep in the foothills near Dry Creek Canyon.

One of the people supporting Smart in her new endeavor is her mother, Lois Smart.

“I think she’s remarkable. She’s a strong woman who survived hardships. But to look at her now, you would never know she went through anything,” she said.

As for the man who assaulted her on the plane, Elizabeth Smart said she filed a complaint with Delta after the incident. She does not blame the airline for the incident and said Delta has been very cooperative in helping her. Smart said the FBI is also assisting.

A spokeswoman with the FBI in Salt Lake City declined comment on Thursday.