Elizabeth Smart, who at age 14 was abducted from her home, sexually abused and held captive for nine months, shared her personal story and emphasized a theme of hope to conclude Penn State’s Child Sexual Abuse Conference today (Oct. 30) at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.
Since being returned to her family in 2003, Smart has become an advocate for change related to child abduction, recovery programs and national legislation.
“The only thing greater than fear is hope,” Smart said at the start of her talk, citing a line from “The Hunger Games,” a recent fiction bestseller and Hollywood film. “I believe that is why we are all here today -- hope that we can make a difference, hope that we can turn something terrible into something wonderful, hope that we can change the tragedy that happened here at Penn State into a platform that will change the community and, consequently, the entire nation.
“Hope is what helped me survive,” she added. “Hope is what I was able to hold onto -- hope that one day I would be reunited with my family, hope that one day I would be given a second chance at life. That is what saw me through my kidnapping.”
The second day of Penn State's first national conference on the topic of child sexual abuse began on Tuesday, Oct. 30, with talks by Margaret Hoelzer, national spokesperson for the National Children’s Advocacy Center; and Christopher Anderson, executive director of MaleSurvivor. The morning session continued with a talk by Julie Larrieu, professor of clinical psychiatry at Tulane University, who spoke to the capacity crowd at the Penn Stater Conference Center and Hotel about her work helping the youngest victims of child sexual abuse and their parents to heal and grow together.
Hoelzer and Anderson, who also participated in a public forum to kick off the conference on Sunday, Oct. 28, shared their personal stories as survivors of child sexual abuse and the stories of their paths to healing and success.
Hoelzer is a two-time Olympic swimmer who won two silver medals and a bronze medal during the 2008 games in Beijing. From the ages of 5 to 7, she was sexually abused by a best friend’s father. She said education about abuse in school, along with a conversation with a childhood friend, were the catalysts that helped her to tell her mother at the age of 11.
From Sunday evening, Oct. 28, through today (Oct. 30), scholars, practitioners, survivors and members of the public nationwide convened at Penn State's University Park campus to attend events related to Penn State's Child Sexual Abuse Conference.
Several events throughout the conference have been live-streamed online and archived on the conference website and WPSU's YouTube channel for ongoing educational viewing purposes, including keynote speaker Sugar Ray Leonard's personal account of his abuse and call to action to eradicate child sexual abuse.
An influential advocate for victims of child abuse said there have been significant gains; however, two in three victims are still suffering in silence.
Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children and founding chairman of its sister organization the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, spoke Monday (Oct. 29) at Penn State's Child Sexual Abuse Conference, outlining ways that communities can assist “the hidden victims.”
“Each one of you has power and influence,” he said to the audience at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. “I've always believed the old John F. Kennedy line that 'One person can make a difference and everyone should try.' I urge you to make a difference in your community. Inform, educate, motivate and mobilize others.”
The man who became a legend of the boxing ring, beating the likes of Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran, also spent decades beating himself up.
Gold medalist and Boxing Hall of Famer Sugar Ray Leonard spoke Monday at Penn State's Child Sexual Abuse Conference, recounting the abuse he suffered at the hands of two men who guided his amateur career in the 1970s and the anguish he endured before disclosing the ordeal in “The Big Fight: My Life in and Out of the Ring,” his 2011 autobiography.
“For 40-something years, I beat myself up,” he said, repeating, “I beat myself up. It was killing me.”
Introduced by Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien, who recalled how “blinding speed, tremendous power and great charm” turned the fighter into an immediate media sensation, Leonard confessed to crying on the plane ride from Los Angeles and in the morning prior to his speech at The Penn Stater.