In writing and talking about sexual violence, people must make a linguistic choice in describing someone who has endured an assault: victim or survivor. Elizabeth uses both terms seemingly interchangeably, as in “rape victim” or “survivor of sexual assault.” Though she uses both words, Elizabeth maintains that they’re not synonymous. “I don’t think they’re the same thing; I think they are different stages, actually,” she says. “A victim is someone who is still going through the abuse, and a survivor is someone who survived it. I’m not saying that they don’t have hard moments still, or things to work through, but it’s more about making that choice: that they want to survive, that they no longer want to remain the victim and they’re taking the steps to move on in their life.”
“I’m not saying it’s easy,” she adds, careful not to minimize anyone’s path to recovery.
[An] editor of a journal on Mormonism …says of Elizabeth, “She’s entirely faithful. And while she’s not part of the feminist ferment in Mormonism, and I doubt she’d call herself a feminist, she is strong in a way that feminists can admire.”
…”The church explicitly considers feminists to be enemies.”
This puts Elizabeth Smart in a very strange position. She is a champion of victims of sexual violence, a hero for so many survivors, and an outspoken critic of religious purity culture. By all accounts, she is a feminist in the truest sense of the term.
…Later, I ask Elizabeth whether she identifies with the term or rejects it, as the New Yorker piece would suggest. At first, she equivocates. “I think there are so many different kinds of feminism—some good, some maybe too extreme—it’s a wonderful thing for women to come together, to be strong, to be independent, to have equal rights as human beings… There shouldn’t be a glass ceiling,” she says, sort of talking around the question. “At the same time, I like it when a man holds the door open for me, and I like it when I’m treated like a lady. I mean… I’m married, I have a husband, I have a family.”
Given the Mormon church’s antagonistic view of the movement, her discomfort with the label makes sense; still, believing in—and actively campaigning for—equality between men and women is pretty much the definition of feminism. When I tell her this, Elizabeth seems to casually change her position. “I’ve never thought of myself as a feminist before… Sure, call me a feminist,” she says.