LOS ANGELES In 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her Salt Lake City home, held captive in the mountains, and raped repeatedly for nine months. Since her escape, she has emerged as an advocate for human trafficking victims and recently, a critic of abstinence-only sex education. When Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins University panel last week, she explained one of the factors deterring her from escaping her attacker: She felt so worthless after being raped that she felt unfit to return to her society, which had communicated some hard and fast rules about premarital sexual contact.
"I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence," Smart told the panel. "And she said, 'Imagine you're a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that's like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times, you're going to become an old piece of gum, and who is going to want you after that?' Well, that's terrible. No one should ever say that. But for me, I thought, 'I'm that chewed-up piece of gum.' Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that's how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value."
As Jessica Valenti points out, the chewing gum analogy is a typical tactic employed by abstinence-only advocates to try to scare teen-agers away from having sex. And while stunts like those are often delivered to coed groups, the messaging falls harder on girls: If one person is the gum, the other person chews. It's difficult to add a rape exemption to that kind of visual. In the case that you're abducted, does God lend you a fresh stick?