Elizabeth Smart, "shocked" after alleged sexual assault on plane, starts self-defense program

Elizabeth Smart on Smart Defense program

Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and sexually assaulted when she was 14 years old, was allegedly sexually assaulted again last summer. The harrowing experience, which allegedly happened on an airplane, inspired her to launch Smart Defense, a program to teach women and girls the skills and confidence they need to protect themselves.

Smart told "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King she was shocked to be targeted in midair.

"I've always felt safe on an airplane. I've never been worried. I've never felt threatened on an airplane until now," she said.

Smart was flying back home to Utah when she says the passenger seated next to her started touching her inappropriately. She said she was asleep and woke up when she felt someone's hand "rubbing in between my legs on my inner thigh."

"I was shocked. I mean the last time someone touched me without my say so was when I was kidnapped. And I froze," she said. "I didn't know what to do."

"And you speak to other women about this?" King asked her. 

"And I speak to other women about it. I say, 'It's okay to say no and it's okay to take care of yourself and be safe,'" she said.

Asked if she was surprised that she froze, Smart said, "I kept saying to myself, 'You're Elizabeth Smart. You should know what to do.'"

Smith described what the man did, rubbing her hand back and forth her legs.

"And so I jerked awake," she said. "I expected the man to jerk his hand away … to apologize … to give me some kind of reason why he was touching me."

But he didn't say anything, Smart said.

Smart told the airline, Delta, what happened through an online complaint. She stressed that she does not blame Delta for what happened.

"It's not Delta's fault. I mean it was this man," she said. "This man made a decision. But I wanted Delta to know … And they were very, you know, they were appalled … they offered to help as much as they could to back me up as far as I wanted to take this."

Delta had the ability to track the man down, she said. 

"They had all his information," she said, adding that she followed up with the FBI.

Asked if she wants to press charges against the man, Smart said, "I don't want him to be preying on other girls." Smart said there is an ongoing investigation.

"When this happened to you, was there a part of you that said, 'Why is this happening to me again?'" King asked. 

"I called up my husband and I was saying … 'Do I just have like a big badge on my forehead that says 'easy prey' or 'victim'? Because I am sick of it,'" she said.

Then Smart had a revelation when her husband, Matthew Gilmour, suggested she work with a family friend trained in self-defense.

"As we were going through this, he had my husband holding me in a couple of different holds, and I had a really difficult time getting away from my husband," she said. "It just kind of hit me in the gut, just kind of thinking, 'We're not doing enough. I'm not doing enough.'"

Smart said that prompted her to create Smart Defense, a self-defense class for women and girls. The program was developed with law enforcement officers and experts in martial arts.

Asked if she has a favorite move that she has learned from self-defense classes, Smart said, "right here is one of the strongest bones in your body," pointing to her elbow. "And it actually doesn't take a whole lot of force to do some serious damage."

For Smart, it's about training to fight back and empowering all women to tap into their own strength. Her mother, Lois, said she thinks what her daughter is doing is "remarkable."

"She's a strong woman who survived hardships, but to look at her now, you would never know she went through anything," she said.

King told Elizabeth that she has "always marveled" at how poised and calm she is after going through everything she's been through.

"What people see on the cameras is a moment in time," she said. "Come to my house in the morning, you see a completely different person."

Asked if she is happy, Smart said, "I am, yes. I mean I have a wonderful husband, beautiful kids."

"I think for so many people they thought … 'How will Elizabeth Smart ever be able to enjoy intimacy in her life?'" King said.

"Well, I have three children. They are mine. They do look like me and my husband," she said. "I think what a lot of people don't understand is that there is a big difference between rape and sexual assault and loving and gentle and consensual — most importantly — intimacy. There's a difference."

Smart knows the difference. "I've experienced both," she said.

Asked if she thinks self-defense training could've helped her when she was 14 years old and abducted from her home, Smart said, "Would it have prevented me from being kidnapped? I don't know. Probably not."

"But then I think that wasn't the end. That was the beginning. After that there was over three miles worth of terrain that we had to cross before he got me to that hidden campsite," she said. "And as we've gone through this training, there is a part of me that thinks had I had this kind of training beforehand … I feel like I would've taken that opportunity during those three miles somewhere … I think I would've had that confidence to try."

Smart said she wants teenagers to take the Smart Defense class.

"We need teenagers to take this," she said. "We're not training them to be assassins. We are trying to train them to give themselves an opportunity to get away."

Smart Defense will expand in Utah in the coming months and hopes to launch in other states this year.

In a statement about the alleged assault on the plane, Delta said it "took the matter seriously and has continued to cooperate with Ms. Smart and the appropriate authorities as the matter is investigated. Delta does not tolerate passenger misconduct towards other customers or Delta people."