On June 5, 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped at knifepoint from her bedroom in Salt Lake City. Over the next nine months she was repeatedly raped by her captor before being rescued.
Now almost 10 years later, Smart is on a mission to raise awareness of child abuse. She will be in the Lowcountry on April 20 and 21 to support a Step Up for Kids weekend in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month.
"Child abuse is very much a part of today's society," Smart said. "And we can't just turn a blind eye to it, especially when one out of four girls and one out of six boys are going to be molested."
Smart said she wants to encourage people to take action if they have a suspicion that a child is being abused. And through the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, she hopes to teach children how to protect themselves so they don't have to go through what she went through.
One of the goals of the foundation is to offer elementary school students a program called radKIDS, which stands for "resist aggression defensively." The program has been introduced in several schools, and Smart said she hopes it soon will be in every elementary school in the U.S.
The program teaches children how to make a plan for any situation they don't feel comfortable in -- whether an adult is trying to kidnap them or another child is bullying them.
Smart said more than 250,000 children have been through the program so far. Of those children, thousands have been taken out of abusive situations. There have been reports of attempted kidnappings on more than 80 of those 250,000 children, but not one of them was successful.
"I know for sure the radKIDS program would've helped me," Smart said.
The program teaches the children to yell loud, hit hard and run fast. Smart said 83 percent of the time when a child kicks, yells or makes a fuss during an attack, it scares off the predator.
Smart also wants children to know it is never their responsibility to help an adult with directions or to find a lost puppy.
"They need to know that not all grown-ups ... are good," she said. "And you can say no."
But Smart said most strangers aren't the ones kids really need to worry about. It's often people they know who will try to hurt them.
"A child needs to know when that line is crossed, what it is OK and what is not OK," Smart said.
Another focus of the foundation is to promote the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. She said child pornography is the fastest growing crime in the country, and there is a sexual predator for every square mile in the U.S.
She said the task force tracks down the physical location of where the porn is being made, but less than 2 percent of the cases are being investigated.
"We can make a difference," Smart said. "And we shouldn't think that there's enough people out there doing the work. ... Don't think that the next person is going to do something because maybe they will or maybe they won't."