Kidnapping, rape survivor speaks at Iowa State University

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AMES, Iowa (KCCI) — Elizabeth Smart, a sexual assault survivor and safety advocate whose 2002 kidnapping garnered national attention, spoke to Iowa State University students in Ames on Friday night.

Elizabeth Smart is an American child safety activist and contributor for ABC News. She first gained national attention at the age of 14 when she was abducted from her home in Salt Lake City by Brian David Mitchell. Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee held Smart captive for nine months until she was rescued by authorities on a street in Sandy, Utah., Photo Date: 6/19/2012 / Photo: Veneta Rizvic / KOMU / CC BY 2.0 / (MGN)

Her appearance comes at a crossroads for Iowa women after the deaths of two college students this summer.

"There's nothing anyone else can do to them that can make them less than anyone else," Smart said, referring to the murders of 22-year-old Iowa State student Celia Barquin Arozamena and 20-year-old University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts.

Smart talked to students about her journey from "adversity to empowerment," saying she knows firsthand what violence against women and girls is like.

Her story of kidnapping and sexual violence in Utah when she was a teenager shocked the nation.

As a survivor who's since taken the rare step of speaking out about what she's been through, she said the tragic deaths of Barquin Arozamena and Tibbetts are emblematic of a much larger problem.

"Clearly, here in Iowa as everywhere else in the country, unfortunately, there is sort of this culture that has been going on for a long time, where if you're big enough and you're powerful enough, that you can hide things and get away with that," Smart said. "I think that's completely unacceptable."

Smart, who has embraced the #MeToo movement, also spoke out about the recent controversy over sexual assault allegations concerning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

"Seeing the way that Dr. (Christine Blasey) Ford's been treated, you'd think, 'Why on earth would I share my story now if that's the reaction I'm going to get?'" Smart said.

Smart said she did not want to talk about the recent release of one of her captors, Wanda Barzee, who spent eight years in prison. Her other captor remains behind bars.