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Elizabeth Smart kicks off self-defense program in St. George – St George News


Elizabeth Smart speaks at Ace Martial Arts in St. George, Utah on Jan. 9, 2021. Photo by Megan Webber, St. George News.

ST. GEORGE — Ace Martial Arts in St. George became the first Southern Utah location to implement Smart Defense programs with a free workshop and seminar featuring Elizabeth Smart on Saturday. 

Smart Defense Program Director Miyo Strong teaches a Smart Defense workshop at Ace Martial Arts in St. George, Utah on Jan. 9, 2021. Photo by Megan Webber, St. George News.

The Smart Defense program was created under the Smart Foundation to give girls and women the tools they need to have the best chance of stopping a potential threat or escaping an attacker. Spearheaded by kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart, the Smart Foundation’s mission is to “bring hope and end the victimization and exploitation of sexual assault through prevention, recovery and advocacy,” according to its website

Smart spoke to the crowd at the free event before Smart Defense Program Director Miyo Strong led workshops for women and children. Practicing self-defense doesn’t stop attacks from happening, Smart said, but it gives people knowledge and self-confidence for when bad things do happen. 

“I cannot promise you that this will protect you from anything bad ever happening, but what this does give to you, what Smart Defense will do for you, is it gives you options,” Smart said. “There are times when it is important to say ‘no,’ when boundaries have been crossed, when you are no longer safe, and your safety should always come first. And this is what that does. This gives you the skills and the knowledge to know that you do have a choice.”

One in five females in the U.S. will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, Strong said. In Utah, that number is one in three. 

“It’s scary, and that’s reported cases,” she said. “So we already have the data that shows that a lot of women and girls don’t feel comfortable reporting, so that one in three statistic is probably very conservative. So you look at this room and you look at how many groups of three we have, that’s a lot of sexual violence happening.”

Smart’s number one goal when she started the foundation was to stop girls from being raped, the foundation’s Chief Philanthropy Officer Sage Hancock said. Native American women and girls are the most affected by sexual assault and sex trafficking in the country, she added, with 90% of women on reservations experiencing sexual assault in their lifetime. In addition, she said 40% of sex trafficking victims are Native American and indigenous women, which only makes up 2% of the country’s total population.

“We want to find a way to help,” Hancock said. 

On March 12, the 18th anniversary of the day Smart was found, the foundation will hold a “Seven Days of Fitness” challenge on social media. Anyone interested in participating can visit the foundation’s Instagram or Facebook page and send a message to the foundation saying, “I’m in” with your email included. The foundation will then send you more information. Participants are asked to make a donation and commit to seven days of workouts related to sexual violence prevention, which are provided by the foundation, and all of the proceeds will go to Native American tribes starting in Utah and moving across the country, Hancock said. 

Amie Maesato Ellis, a local advocate, mother of a human trafficking victim and founder of Save the Next Girl, spoke about her experiences and how to keep children protected from attacks and violence. She said parents should encourage their children to ask an adult for help when they need it, ask their kids for all their social media passwords just in case the child goes missing and make the home a safe space where children feel comfortable asking difficult questions. 

An envelope holding a photo of Penelope Zaranda, age 13, missing since July 10, 2020 from Altadena, California. Save the Next Girl founder Amie Ellis handed out envelopes with the names of missing children at a Smart Defense workshop at Ace Martial Arts in St. George, Utah on Jan. 9, 2021. Photo by Megan Webber, St. George News.

She also handed out envelopes, each of which had a tiny piece of paper with a picture of a child who went missing last year and has not been found.

“I didn’t know that human trafficking was a thing. It just wasn’t a part of my reality,” she said. “Before this happened to our family, I felt bad when I saw an Amber Alert, but I never looked at it cause I was just too busy with my life. You best believe every time I look at it now. I look at the picture of the child, I look at the picture of who I’m looking for, I look at the car. These are our children.”

Smart Defense has two locations in northern Utah and Jennifer Reis, co-owner of Ace Martial Arts, said she was excited to bring the program to her studio. 

“When I was asked about this (the Smart Defense Program), I was 100% honored,” she said.

To register for Smart Defense programs at Ace Martial Arts, visit the foundation’s website.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.


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