February 6, 2020
Elizabeth Smart Says She Was Sexually Assaulted By Fellow Passenger On A Plane, Launches Self-Defense Program

Elizabeth Smart alleged that she was sexually assaulted by a male passenger on a flight last summer and has started a women's self-defense program to teach other women what to do should they ever be in such a situation, The Independent reports.

Smart, 32, says that she was on a Utah-bound Delta flight last summer and had fallen asleep. When she woke up, she says, she discovered that a man was rubbing her inner thigh.

"I was shocked. The last time someone touched me without my say-so was when I was kidnapped and I froze," she said, referring to the nine-month period between 2002 and 2003 when, as a 14-year-old, she was kidnapped and held in sexual slavery by a couple, Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee.

Since her release and reaching adulthood, she's become an advocate for child safety. Despite her ordeal, she says that when she was allegedly being assaulted on a plane, she was so paralyzed that she couldn't think straight.

"You're Elizabeth Smart! You should know what to do," she said.

Smart didn't say what exactly happened in the immediate aftermath, but she did eventually tell Delta, which she said was "apologetic." She also noted that an investigation is underway.

Meanwhile, she's started a women's self-defense class, called "Smart Defense," which she hopes will teach women to "give themselves an opportunity to get away."

For now, the class is only available in Salt Lake City, but it will soon expand to other cities across the United States.

Whether or not Smart's class will teach women what to do if groped or otherwise sexually assaulted on an airplane is not clear, but what is clear is that the matter of men groping female passengers on aircraft is a problem.

As MarketWatch reported in 2018, one in five female flight attendants reports having been groped on the job, to say nothing of the multitude of stories of female passengers also reporting being sexually harassed by men on the same flight.

So prevalent is the problem that the FBI has issued a set of guidelines to women -- and parents of unaccompanied minors -- to protect themselves against sexual assault. For example, females are instructed to keep the armrest down in between their own seats and those of male seatmates. Parents of unaccompanied minors are encouraged to request an aisle seat for their young charges so that attendants can keep a better eye on them.