Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour is turning ashes into roses.
On Monday, Smart-Gilmour shared the experiences of her nine-month kidnapping ordeal at a round table discussion tackling the growing problem of violence and human trafficking in the Dakotas.
As reported by Valley News Live, Dakota's U.S. Attorneys joined forces with medical professionals, social workers and advocate group representatives at a three-day event in Sioux Falls to determine protocol for recognizing and supporting victims of human trafficking.
Smart-Gilmour stressed that it is a growing concern across the country.
"It's everywhere whether you accept it or not," she said. "It's in my hometown. It's here in your hometown. It's everywhere, and as soon as we open our eyes and acknowledge that, the sooner we can start to make a difference."
Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour with USA Brendan Johnson and USA Tim Purdon at Human Trafficking Conference in Sioux Falls. pic.twitter.com/nk5RnNyQWD
— SD U.S. Attorney (@DSDNews1) August 13, 2014
A focus of the conference was the vulnerability of woman and children, and the horrors of being caught in human trafficking rings that are difficult to escape.
"I mean the fact of the matter is these victims are often the most vulnerable in our community and if the community itself is not taking care of our own children, there are predators out there that are looking to take advantage of that situation," said Brenda Johnson, attorney general of the South Dakota U.S. Attorney's.
Johnson said awareness is not enough. She told the round table it's imperative the state gets ahead of the problem to protect future victims from being sold for sex.
"Most often, in South Dakota, our victims are ages 13 to 30, they come from a vulnerable population, often have drug abuse or alcohol addiction problems," Johnson said.
Elizabeth Smart shares her amazing story of survival. pic.twitter.com/cLaMO9phLO
— Avera Health (@AveraHealth) August 13, 2014
Tad Jacobs, chief medical officer for the Avera Medical Group, said the signs of trafficking can be very difficult to detect, but with greater awareness, it will improve the chances of detecting victims when they come to medical facilities.
"If we have a heightened awareness, then we'll look for those clues and sometimes, you know, if somebody comes in and has been a victim of violence, it's pretty obvious in the clinic or in a hospital, but sometimes those clues are very subtle and they're not very obvious," Jacobs said.
— sevenly (@sevenly) August 11, 2014
Human trafficking has been particularly prevalent in Sturgis, South Dakota. Nine men were arrested last year and six were arrested this year. Johnson said it's not something anyone wants to think about but says avoiding the problem will only allow it to escalate.
"This is difficult stuff to talk about, it makes people uncomfortable, but that's okay because the reality is the discomfort that we have talking about sex trafficking is nothing compared to the real life pain that South Dakota children have gone through when they've been victimized," Johnson said.
Smart-Gilmour was abducted from her bedroom in her family's Salt Lake City home on June 5, 2002, at the age of 14. She was found nine months later on March 12, 2003, in Sandy, Utah, 18 miles from her home, in the company of Brian David Mitchell, who raped Smart-Gilmour during her captivity, and Wanda Ileen Barzee.
Image via Wikimedia Commons