Smart Might Have Been A Perfect Victim To Fall Prey To Cults

KOMO 4 News/March 13, 2003
By Bryan Johnson

Salt Lake City -- Those who study cults say Elizabeth Smart was the perfect victim: smart, attractive and soft spoken.

Shirley Landa, who has been a cult fighter for almost 30 years, told KOMO 4 News: "She's a very obedient little girl, came from a wonderful family. She's going to do what she's told to protect her family."

Landa believes the suspected abductor, Brian Mitchell, threatened the girl's family and Elizabeth believed him. After all, Landa said, all he got in her house armed with a knife.

Landa is not the only one who believes Elizabeth was brainwashed. Her father, Ed Smart, says: "He did an absolute brain washing job on her and I know its going to difficult and it is going to be a long road."

Landa says it's not that hard to brainwash a child: It happens slowly, one step at a time rather like the way you put on weight.

"It's one pound after another, and pretty soon you've put on 40 pounds and you wonder how could that happen," Landa said. "It's the same thing with controlling someone's mind. You feed in a little bit of information, and a little bit of information and you start to go along with it."

Landa says that gradual acceptance ends in submission.

Lucy Berliner works with victims of abuse at Harborview Medical Center. She says Elizabeth was either controlled by fear or brainwashing.

She doesn't know which, but she's not surprised the girl didn't speak out: "This is true of hundreds of cases of child abuse. They have a chance to speak out. They don't and they go home to be abused or raped again. It's because the alternative might bring more harm to themselves or to their families and it doesn't seem worth it."

Berliner says now the fear is removed, Elizabeth, with appropriate counseling and family support, may be able to recover relatively quickly. One of the reasons she is optimistic is Ed Smart's statement that his daughter was brainwashed. She told KOMO 4 News the family is not putting any of the blame on Elizabeth and that is critical to a successful recovery.

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