Ed Smart has lived through every parent’s nightmare.
In 2002, his daughter, Elizabeth Smart, then 14, was abducted from their home in Salt Lake City, and it wasn’t until nine months later that she was rescued by police.
In the years since the case captured headlines nationwide, Elizabeth and Ed Smart have become activists, working to help abduction survivors and teach strategies to keep children safe.
Ed Smart will be coming to McEachern High School next month to host a child safety forum sponsored by Protect Georgia Families.
Ed Smart told the MDJ he plans to discuss a wide range of issues relating to child abuse.
“This is going to be an opportunity to address the issues of abuse,” he said. “It’s going to talk about grooming, what happens prior to, and how we can avoid the whole scenario,” he said. “So we’re going to be talking basically about the grooming segment, the abuse itself, how people recover, and it’s not just a matter of getting past the event, but moving forward and not living in the shame and the guilt that many times comes with the abuse.”
Smart also said the forum will include tips for parents. One of the most important: don’t be afraid to broach uncomfortable topics with your kids.
“Parents need to talk with their children and have conversations, sometimes about things that are a little more sensitive,” he said. “Without talking to them, they will be doing a great disservice in not preparing them for the future. So we’ll be giving them a lot of help and ideas they can use to help talk to their children.”
Smart said those conversations do not need to be explicit, but the important thing is letting children know it’s okay to stand up for themselves when an adult crosses the line.
“We try to prepare our children to respect adults, and unfortunately, it generally is an adult that will abuse or cause one of the problems we don’t want,” he said. “Our children need to understand when somebody, no matter who it is, crosses a line in the sand, they have the right to take steps to change whatever the outcome might be, and they need to know what those options and those choices are.”
Smart said one program that helps teach kids those options is called radKIDS, and is taught around the country, including in Marietta as a partnership between Marietta City Schools and the Marietta Police Department.
“When Elizabeth was taken, it went through my mind, what could I have done to help her prepare?” Smart said. “Every child is going to respond differently, whether it’s a child that runs, a child that screams, a child that just freezes there out of fright. In order to change those scenarios, we need to get our children to the point where it becomes automatic, it becomes second nature, they know automatically what works for them, what they can do to potentially change the outcome of a very bad situation.”
The forum will also include a musical performance by R&B recording artist Jay Warren. Warren told the MDJ he was glad to be a part of the program once he heard about the cause.
“It’s a huge issue,” he said. “I feel like once you hear about the issue, you hear about some of the numbers, the facts, it’s really easy to feel attached to the cause. I personally have a friend of mine who was heavily abused as a child, that’s one of my best friends, so to be able to help with any sort of abuse, especially with children, I feel like I’m doing my part.”