DALLAS, TX—A jumble of thoughts invaded the thoughts of Elizabeth Smart, as she was held captive for nine months, by a pedophile and his wife.
"I had dark moments, where I didn't know if I would see my family again," Smart said, after speaking at an event in Dallas.
Smart was 14 years old, when in 2002 she was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City bedroom and kept as a prisoner, where she was chained to a tree, and raped almost daily.
"I always prayed that I would survive, that I would live."
Smart spoke before a crowd of about 3,000 people at the annual Crimes Against Children Conference, sponsored by the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center. Smart didn't swell on her horrific experience, but imparted a message of hope and healing, which she hopes abuse survivors will take to heart.
"I would tell them that life is more than what they experienced and the world has so much to offer."
But, experts say adjusting to a new normal can be difficult for those who are sexually abused. Survivors often feel guilt, blaming themselves for what happened.
"I think that is the hard part for victims because there is so much humiliation," Elizabeth's father, Ed Smart, said.
The numbers are startling. Officials say about one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually molested, but they say the feelings of being in control can be restored, if there is quick intervention, with therapy.
"We also know that if children don't get help they can get into drugs and alcohol at a higher rate, they get into unhealthy relationships and they drop out of school at higher rates," Lynn Davis, director of the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center, said.
As for Smart, she says she will continue to share the message that even though her life was changed by abuse, she didn't lose hope.
"It will change your life, but it doesn't have to ruin your life."
Smart's attackers, Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee were convicted. Mitchell is serving a life sentence.