Klavan On The Culture

A Follow-Up on Elizabeth Smart

In my post below, I mentioned that I would read Elizabeth Smart’s new memoir My Story and get back to you if it was any good. And I did read it and it was pretty good:  a straightforward and involving account of her nine nightmare months in the clutches of a filthy kidnapper and his mindless follower/wife. It’s not sensationalistic — sometimes it’s even a little coy about specifics — but there’s enough there to give you a very clear idea of what the girl endured. I had to read it in short bursts because learning about the abuse ticked me off so much. It is one of the rare cases of non-murder I believe could have been fairly punished by the death penalty.

Smart is very insistent that she at no time suffered from Stockholm Syndrome or in any way identified with her captors. She’s so insistent that there were times I wondered whether she protested too much. But no, I finally decided her remarks were a pretty natural reaction to the sort of comments she must’ve heard when people learned that she hadn’t called for help even when a police detective confronted her in public. She is obviously insulted by the assumption that she had become brainwashed into loyalty toward her captor. I would be insulted by that assumption too in her shoes. She was simply young, innocent and scared for her life. She knew the guy was evil. I believe that.

I’ve never heard Smart or her parents say this, but personally, I thought the cops did a stone lousy job during the investigation. They wasted time; they wrong-footed her parents’ search; they let the kidnapper con them; even at the end, they treated the underage victim unkindly until her father finally blew up at them and pulled her out of their clutches. What the hell were they thinking? If they really were as bad as this memoir makes them sound, someone ought to rewrite their guidebook on how to handle such cases.

Finally, in my original post, I wondered at how (or as some commenters put it, whether in fact) she had managed to recover from the trauma of being dragged from her home, raped daily and forced to violate every moral precept she had. The book doesn’t supply an answer. In fact, the chapters describing her life after the rescue are the least satisfying in the book. To be perfectly blunt, the question that occurred to me — and not, so help me, in a prurient way at all, but out of true curiosity — was: “How’s her sex life?” I mean, how did she establish physical intimacy with her husband when her first experience of sex was months of monstrous abuse? I know victims of sex abuse — I guess we all do. It marks them. Is Elizabeth not scarred at all and, if not, why not? It’s probably too much to ask that Smart reveal this much of herself, but I would like to know.

Anyway, if you’re interested in this case, My Story is a good, if harrowing, read.