Elizabeth Smart to speak at York County Children's Advocacy Center 10th anniversary

John Joyce

Kidnapping and rape survivor Elizabeth Smart will serve as the keynote speaker for the York County Children's Advocacy Center's 10th Anniversary Celebration on Friday.

Elizabeth Smart

Smart, 28, garnered national attention when, at 14, she was abducted from her bedroom in her family's Salt Lake City home in 2002. Smart suffered repeated rapes and abuse at the hands of her captors for nine months. Police rescued her after receiving information as to her whereabouts following an airing of her story on "America's Most Wanted."

She will speak at 6 p.m. Friday at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St.

York CAC Executive Director Deb Harrison said the center's motivation for bringing Smart in as speaker is that her experience might serve as an example for local youths who have suffered some of the same traumas Smart endured as a young teen.

"It is a very dark topic, difficult to talk about," Harrison said.

York CAC: The center — a painted house on South Queen Street — provides trained forensic interviewers and forensic medical examiners in a nonthreatening space to help facilitate investigations in a way that minimizes the traumatic impact felt by the victim.

"Our mission is to help ensure the child abuse investigation is child-friendly and doesn't add to the trauma the child has experienced," she said.

Rather than the child being interviewed repeatedly by various police officers and detectives, and then being taken from a police station to a hospital for examination and to collect physical evidence, the whole ordeal is centralized at the center and is conducted with the child's welfare in mind.

While no local cases as extreme as Smart's came immediately to mind, Harrison said the number of children the center sees month-to-month and year-to-year speaks to the pervasiveness of child abuse and sexual assault.

"We saw 70 children in March," she said. "And the center handled 681 cases in 2015."

"We serve all of York County, and we have sister agencies like the Children's Alliance in Lancaster and the (PinnacleHealth) Child Resource Center in Harrisburg," Harrison said.

Cases come to the center by referral and range from allegations of neglect, malnutrition and hygiene concerns to physical and sexual abuse.

"We write protocol for each category of abuse we see, including sexual abuse, be it touching through the clothes to rape or exposure to pornography," Harrison said.

On average, 80 percent of the cases that come across the center's desk have to do with sexual abuse. And while it remains a sensitive subject, the center has for the last decade worked to increase education and to bring attention to the subject both locally and statewide.

"For 10 years, York has had a state of the art center. We are ahead of the curve for a lot of Pennsylvania," Harrison said.

Smart: Elizabeth Smart was taken from her home on June 5, 2002, and held until March 12, 2003. Her abductor, Brian David Mitchell, was sentenced to life in prison in 2010. A year earlier, Mitchell's accomplice, Wanda Ileen Barzee, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison and given credit for seven years time served.

Smart has gone on to become an author and an advocate for child abuse and abduction victims, and she has been the subject of a made-for-television movie, "The Elizabeth Smart Story." She has advocated for legislation increasing the judicial system's ability to classify and to monitor registered sex offenders and to prosecute cases involving child abuse, abduction and human trafficking.

General admission tickets for the York CAC program are $46. Patron tickets are available for $100. Smart will hold a book signing and a meet and greet after the ceremony.

For more information, visit the York County CAC web site at www.yorkcac.org.