LAYTON -- Protecting the children protects the future, says children's advocate Elizabeth Smart.
Smart spoke before 250 people Wednesday at the closing luncheon of the 24th annual Conference on Child Abuse & Family Violence at the Davis Conference Center.
"Children are our most valuable assets," she said. "They are our future. We need to protect them. We need to empower them."
She talked briefly about the nightmare she lived after Brian David Mitchell abducted her from her Salt Lake City home June 5, 2002, when she was 14. Nine months later, after being humiliated, repeatedly raped and almost starved to death, Smart was returned to her family.
Police found Smart on March 13, 2003, along with Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Illeen Barzee, walking down State Street in Sandy.
Mitchell was convicted in 2010 of kidnapping Smart and is serving a life sentence in federal prison.
Smart, who is now 23, said the best advice she received was from her mother, Lois Smart, the morning after she returned home: "My mom said, 'What the man did to you was terrible, evil and wicked. But do not let him take another minute of your life.'aa"
Smart credits her parents' unconditional love for her, plus her faith in God and her love of music, for helping her move forward with her life, which has included college and serving a mission in France for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"And I'd like to add, there's no therapy like retail therapy," she quipped to laughter.
Smart is now president of The Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which has partnered with radKids, a nonprofit organization that teaches children across the country that they have the power to stop others from hurting them.
"Yes, education is the key to success," Smart said. "But you can't be successful if you're not alive."
Smart said she was taught as a child to respect adults and do what they said without question. That is why she left her home with Mitchell when he threatened to kill her and her family.
"I believed then I had only two choices: Stay in bed and get killed, or get up and go with him," Smart said. "There were other options, but I didn't know them."
The program, which is taught in some Utah schools, teaches students they have options when faced with abduction or abuse.
Smart thanked those at the conference for the difference they are making in children's lives every day.
When asked what they could do to help children who may have been abused, Smart and her father, Ed Smart, both said it is important for prosecutors, social workers and police officers to explain the court process and the choices the victims face.
"Otherwise, the families and the victims will be revictimized," Ed Smart said. "We didn't know what the process was or what our choices were."