Detective Refused to Lift Niqab, Subjecting Elizabeth Smart to 7 Months of Rape and Torture

Detective Refused to Lift Niqab, Subjecting Elizabeth Smart to 7 Months of Rape and Torture

It’s easy to think that we should always defer to people’s religious beliefs, but there are obviously times when common sense has to prevail. Case in point? When a detective was tipped off about kidnapped teenager Elizabeth Smart, and delivered her back into the hands of her captors because he refused to lift the niqab and see her face.

elizabeth smart

Most Americans, and probably a good many Canadians, remember the case of Elizabeth Smart, the beautiful 14-year-old Utah girl abducted from her bedroom in June 2002. The story was huge enough when it was just a missing-persons case, but when Smart was found alive in March 2003, it became a full-on sensation. Revelations that Smart had been subjected to nine months of rape, torture, and brutality at the hands of her kidnapper, self-styled “prophet” Brian David Mitchell (and his female accomplice Wanda Barzee), fed the media firestorm.

In 2010, I covered Mitchell’s trial for the now-defunct Breitbart offshoot YesButHowever.com. One of the most shocking revelations to come out during the trial was that merely two months into her ordeal, Smart was nearly saved by a Good Samaritan in a Salt Lake City library who became suspicious upon seeing a girl in a niqab in the company of an odd-looking bearded man (Mitchell) and an older woman (Barzee). The tipster, who called 911, claimed that the girl’s eyes were remarkably similar to Smart’s (the eyes were the only visible part of the young girl’s covered face). Salt Lake City detective Jon Richey, who arrived to investigate, asked Mitchell if he could look under the girl’s niqab. Mitchell vigorously claimed that to expose the girl’s face to a stranger would violate his religious beliefs. No matter how many times Richey asked to see the girl’s face, Mitchell stood fast, claiming there would be “serious religious consequences” should the girl’s face be exposed to anyone but her husband. Smart, traumatized with fear and with Barzee grasping her tightly, was too petrified to speak up.

Detective Richey admitted on the stand that he was concerned about violating Mitchell’s “civil rights” and offending his “religious beliefs,” so he backed down. He retreated from the library, giving in to Mitchell’s claim that the niqab was sacred and that lifting it would be a gross civil rights violation. Mitchell and Barzee ushered Smart out of the library, and she would be forced to endure seven more months of rape, torture, and physical and mental abuse before being rescued. Smart testified that as Detective Richey abandoned her, “I felt like hope was walking out the door…. I felt terrible that the detective could just walk away.” The detective concluded his testimony by stating, “There’s nothing I would have done differently.” Just think about that sentence for a moment. Even knowing now what his inaction led to, he still stands by what he did. There’s no acknowledgment of error because he doesn’t believe he was in error. Respecting the “sanctity” of the niqab seems more important to him than protecting a 14-year-old girl from rape and torture.

It’s one thing for him to have made the mistake at the time — sometimes, people have terrible lapses in judgment. But to look back on what his decision forced her to go through and say he wouldn’t have done anything differently is truly offensive.

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