I've written this column in response to a Globe and Mail article. (I've cut and paste that article below). Donald _____________________________________________________________________________
Of Salt Lake City’s Elizabeth Smart, The Globe and Mail’s columnist, Margaret Wentes writes: "America's newest princess was not locked up in a dungeon behind a hedge of thorns, as people had assumed. Instead, she was hiding in plain sight....Why didn't she scream for help? Why didn't she run away?...she could have escaped a hundred times if she'd wanted to."
Maybe by month number nine, kidnapped Elizabeth didn't scream loud enough so that Wentes could hear her. But reading Wentes' column A captive princess, hiding in plain site: Like Sleeping Beauty, this fairy tale is being scrubbed up for the public (Mar. 15), I was sure shouting out a few choice words!
Wente’s column shows a gross lack of understanding and empathy.
She does compare Elizabeth to Little Red Riding Hood, but the worst she can write about Elizabeth’s perpetrator? “[The step-] children all agree that Mr. Mitchell is a menace.”
Filmed in front of the worldwide press, the kidnapper's own step-daughter disclosed Mitchell sexually molested her. How does Wente report that? “ [She] fled the household after Mr. Mitchell tried to cuddle up to her.”
A media-savy public doesn’t need to “scrub” out what happened to Ms. Smart. Since the teenager was removed from the safety of her parents' home at knifepoint, she wasn't a willing prisoner. We can only imagine her burqas-hidden terror.
Perhaps the real wolf in sheep’s clothing are journalists such as Wentes. Must victims of psychological control spell out, yet again, Psych 101 reasons why this girl didn't scream for help or run away?
It is not unusual for those who are sexually abused and physically owned to appear in public with their perpertrator. They smile for the waitresses, the ministers and the policemen who cross their path. Perhaps they don't want anything similar to happen to other potential young victims. Or perhaps they just want to wake up the next morning.
Yes, Ms. Wentes, as you chose to word it, the world is full of “victims under an evil spell.” But must you mawkishly suggest, “Teenage girls are particularly vulnerable to that." Survivors, male or female, learn to do whatever it takes to be able to live to tell their tales.
Ms. Wentes, you're right about one thing.
Are such victims innocent? Not anymore.
A captive princess, hiding in plain sight
|Like Sleeping Beauty, this fairy tale is being scrubbed up for the public |
By MARGARET WENTE
Saturday, March 15, 2003 - Page A15
On the streets of Salt Lake City, the most devout town in America, they're calling the safe return of Elizabeth Smart a "miracle."
"What an absolute miracle this is," her father, Ed, said between sobs. "God lives! He answers prayers."
The blond, angelic, apple-cheeked Elizabeth is the archetype of virgin innocence. At 15, she is not a little girl, but not a woman either. And her abduction in the dead of night last June -- she was snatched from her own bed at knifepoint -- is every parent's most primal nightmare. Her safe return is the happy ending of a fairy tale, in a season when all the other news is way too real.
Elizabeth's story, like Little Red Riding Hood's, or Sleeping Beauty's, is really the story of triumph over death. But fairy tales are generally scrubbed up and expurgated for tender modern sensibilities. In the original version of Red Riding Hood, the wolf's appetites are carnal. In Sleeping Beauty, the princess is awakened not by a respectful kiss, but by the birth of twins after she has been violated in her sleep.
The tale of Elizabeth Smart has a dark side, too. The dark side is what really happened to her over these past nine months. Best not to dwell on that. Best to scrub that part out.
America's newest princess was not locked up in a dungeon behind a hedge of thorns, as people had assumed. Instead, she was hiding in plain sight. She was seen in restaurants and shops, on buses and at parties. She travelled back and forth to San Diego. Once, she ate at a place called the Souper Salad, a few kilometers south of Salt Lake City, where her captors were so well known the restaurant workers referred to them as "Jesus and Mary."
By then she was the most famous missing person in America. There was a poster of her on the restaurant's door.
Why didn't she scream for help? Why didn't she run away?
Elizabeth's family maintains that she was never left alone and couldn't have escaped. The truth is that she could have escaped a hundred times if she'd wanted to. Even when the police found her Wednesday, dressed in a filthy white robe and veil, she insisted over and over that her name was Augustine.
Her father explains that she was "brainwashed." The experts blame the Stockholm syndrome. Certainly, she fell under an evil spell. Teenage girls are particularly vulnerable to that.
It says something about modern life that no one thought Elizabeth's abductor, a ranting, raving vagrant named Brian Mitchell, was particularly dangerous or sinister. People in long white robes who shout "I am the Word of God" on city streets are not unusual these days, and many people were very kind to Mr. Mitchell. No one seemed to give a second thought to the two women in burqas he had in tow.
"We get a pretty diverse group of people in here -- hippies and vegans," said a clerk at the Wild Oats Natural Market Place, a store the trio shopped at. "So you try not to think about people being strange." It displayed posters of Elizabeth, too.
Perhaps it was a bit strange when, 16 months ago, Elizabeth's mother, Lois, invited Mr. Mitchell home to help fix the roof of their million-dollar home after he panhandled $5 off of her. Most people would be less trusting. But folks are kind in Salt Lake City, and that's how Mr. Mitchell turned up at the Smart household. The next time he turned up was seven months later, when he cut a slit in the screen door and let himself in to abduct the sleeping virgin.
"He was looking for a pure, innocent girl and she was angelic," said her father. "This was what he wanted and he was fixated on her."
The guessing is that Mr. Mitchell wanted Elizabeth for his second wife, or maybe his fourth, since he'd had three of them already. The latest one was the pathetic Wanda Barzee, a battered-looking woman who used to wander around with dolls and pretend they were real. Last year, she was thrown out of a Utah hospital for touching other people's kids.
Wanda's children all agree that Mr. Mitchell is a menace. "He shot a dog in front of us, made me eat my own rabbit for dinner, things like that," said a daughter, who fled the household after Mr. Mitchell tried to cuddle up to her. Wanda's son guesses that he fried his brains on LSD. "We think that's how he could communicate with God," he said. "That and listen to the Steve Miller Band."
There's no mystery as to how Mr. Mitchell became fixated on polygamy. Although outlawed, polygamy is not extinct among Mormons, and polygamists usually like to marry malleable younger girls.
Mr. Mitchell was a fervent Mormon until the church decided he was too crazy, and excommunicated him.
Elizabeth's father thanks the power of prayer for his daughter's safe return. But, as befits an American fairy tale, the power of TV helped, too. Four months after Elizabeth's abduction, her nine-year-old sister, who'd been sleeping in the same room, remembered the crazy bearded roofer and told her dad it might have been him. The police were focused on another suspect and ignored the lead. So Ed took matters into his own hands and went on Fox-TV's America's Most Wanted. The show broadcast a sketch of Mr. Mitchell and began a crusade to catch him, and it worked. People began phoning the police to report they'd seen him.
According to her family, Elizabeth said she had no idea people were looking for her. But it would have been impossible for her not to know. She would have seen the posters of her own face everywhere. She heard the search parties. Camped in the hills not far from her own house last summer, she even heard her uncle's voice calling out for her.
Perhaps she didn't want to be found. Perhaps she was in a trance.
It's impossible to know what she was thinking, because the girl who is the central figure in this drama is a cipher.
We don't know anything about her, except that she is quiet and serious, innocent and lovely, just as princesses and angels should be. The first night she got back home she entertained her family on the harp. Then she curled up with her favourite movie, The Trouble With Angels. It's a sweet Hayley Mills vehicle about some naughty convent girls, made in an era before crazy people were a common sight on every city street and parents feared their sleeping children would be snatched from their beds.
Asked about the changes in his daughter, her father said, "She's really a young woman now. She's matured." More than that he wouldn't say, and who really wants to know anyway? Why doubt the power of prayer? Why spoil a happy ending? These days we deserve all of them we can get.