Sioux Falls, SD
Empowering the victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking is one of the goals of law enforcement and healthcare leaders, and a national face of child abduction survivors is hoping to spread that message as well.
"Well, I certainly consider myself a survivor. I do not think of myself as a victim," Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour said.
It's one sentence that carries a strong message, and for abduction survivor Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour, it's something she hopes more people rescued from human trafficking take on as well. She first knows that more people need to recognize trafficking as a major problem.
"What is human trafficking? That is slavery. Children being sold and traded for sex or whatever, that's slavery and it's everywhere whether you accept it or not," Smart-Gilmour said.
Smart was abducted in 2002 in what quickly became one of the most followed kidnapping cases ever. She was rescued after nine months away from friends and family. Over a decade later, Smart says that she's honored to be someone that could help others in danger.
"I'm grateful to be where I am. I'm grateful to have a support system that I can turn to. I'm grateful that there are so many people who are willing to listen to me and who want to help make a difference," Smart-Gilmour said.
Services and advocacy groups for abduction and human trafficking survivors have changed dramatically since Smart's rescue, and she applauds the efforts of the Dakotas to help them in every step of their recovery.
"Once they're rescued, it's kind of like out of mind, out of sight. So, giving that extra care and making sure their needs are met, that they have a way to settle back into society, that's huge," Smart-Gilmour said.
It's those steps and a message of hope that Smart says can make all the difference in their lives.
"Certainly, this area is darkest of all areas, but people need to know that happy endings exist and that children do come back and they can go on to be happy," Smart-Gilmour said.
Smart says that while speaking with people at the human trafficking conference Wednesday, she thanked them all for everything they do to help every survivor.