Amy is an amazing friend, I have known her a million years. We met when I went into the family business. My family business is gambling...my grandfather and grandmother were casino owners, my father dealt craps when he was 16 standing on a coke box in Kemah Texas. I came from a long line of card and dice folks. When we moved to Las Vegas I was only 13, but I knew more about games of chance than I did fairy tales. Since Amy also worked in the casino as the personal assistant of the owner, we would sit after work and talk about everything. And we bonded....No one in this world makes me laugh more and harder than she does. Amy went on to do one interesting thing after another. She was the first woman to sit on the Boxing Commission in Nevada. Amy led the commission to not reinstate Mike Tyson's boxing license even though a fight of that stature represents about 12 million dollars for our city. Brave? I think so. She kept going and became an incredible fund raiser. Raising more money for the democratic party in Nevada than anyone ever had, over 100 million dollars for politicians and charitable causes. She built on her success starting a business called the "Zen Speaker." (www.thezenspeaker.com/)
Specializing in helping clients speak in public to their best ability. In her words, "How to be calm, confident and compelling in the spotlight." Everyone wants that, everyone needs that. I recently attended a 6 week seminar she gave and in my class was a boxing referee, a woman from Metro, an intuitive, someone who worked for "Make a Wish" and the legal counsel for a child advocacy program. Fascinating people are attracted to her, they always have been.
I know a lot about Amy, in fact I thought I knew everything.
Then one day she invited me to breakfast and told me there was something she needed to tell me. Over bagels and cream cheese she told me a story I never thought I would hear from her. She confided to me that she had been a victim of sex trafficking. When she was very young, she had been forced into prostitution and was almost killed by the man who had trapped her. I knew she had gone through some difficult times as a teenager, but never this. It was time, she said, to go public with her story so that she could be a voice for so many who had lost theirs. Amy wanted raped and abused women to know they could survive and flourish. She had survived and wanted to look in the faces of girls and women and show them...not just tell them...that it can be done.
So she did, she shared her story in what has to be one of the bravest things I have ever seen. The reaction was incredible. She first spoke at the graduation of a girls school, not coincidently the one she had attended while being a "challenging" teenager. Her message was clear...don't be defined by the negative occurrences in your life. Believe in yourself, believe in your potential and don't stop until you reach it. Her many speaking engagements led Senator Harry Reid to appoint her to the national Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities and her appointment was later approved by Congress.
The first time I heard her story in public was one of the most emotional experiences I have had. I knew what she was going to say but I sobbed through it anyway. How could my friend have gone through such a harrowing experience? How could anyone be that evil to force her to do things so heinous? How does anyone have that right?
That is her message, no one has the right.
So when she called and asked me to be her guest at the Anniversary dinner for the Rape Crisis Center I was happy to attend. I grabbed my friend Betsey and off we went.
Which brings me to the second woman in this story, the keynote speaker from last night, Elizabeth Smart.
She was calm as she spoke but very strong and she mesmerized the crowd. Although young she is incredibly articulate, extremely engaging and passionate about this cause of supporting and helping women who have been broken. Amy told me later she is the introverts introvert, large crowds and speaking in front of people is very difficult for her. When she was signing my book I told her my 12 year old son was on his way to scout camp when she was abducted. He told me scout camp wasn't as important as going to Utah to help look for her. Everyone looked for her....everyone. When she began to tell her story she never equivocated, didn't back down from very uncomfortable facts. She had been kidnapped and raped by one of the most evil people on Earth. She described a cleansing ritual, a mock marriage that was followed by a rape. Looking at this incredibly beautiful, sweet woman I was rocked by the remembrance she had been 14 when it happened. A completely innocent 14 year old child looking forward to nothing more serious than attending high school.
She said the question she is asked the most is "why didn't you try to escape?" Her explanation? "Everything my kidnappers told me came true." So of course she would believe them when they told her if she tried to escape they would kill her and her family. They told her no one wanted her anyway, and no one would believe her. Of course she wanted to escape, of course she wanted to go home....but she knew they would kill her and her family. When she was finally found and taken to the police station she thought the police wouldn't believe her. She went though a scenario in her mind that jail would be much better than what she was currently experiencing. The police held her in a small room with no explanation and she had no idea what was occurring. But then the door burst open and her father was standing there. He shouted, "Elizabeth is that really you?" Suddenly I knew why there was box of kleenex on every table...there wasn't a dry eye in that room. A complete miracle, she was rescued! She received 3 standing ovations and the respect of every person there. One thing she said will stay with me forever. She wasn't angry. She said "I have come to a place in my life where I'm not sorry for what happened and I don't pity myself. I believe 100% in happy endings." That went through my mind over and over. Elizabeth Smart would not be defined by this incredible act of violence, but by her faith and the knowledge of her worth.
I never thought my friend Amy would have so much in common with Elizabeth Smart.....but she does. And statistics will tell you there are a great many women out there with memories no one knows about. Except for their attacker.
Lets do all we can to end this....lets make the punishment so severe that attackers think twice before they attack a woman, or a girl.... or anyone.
Thank you Elizabeth Smart for your example of courage, survival and hope, and thank you Amy Ayoub for your example of courage, survival and hope.