Elizabeth Smart's Message to Rescued Women: Don't Blame Yourself

05/07/2013 at 01:45 PM EDT

Elizabeth Smart's Message to Rescued Women: Don't Blame Yourself
Amanda Marie Berry (left) and Georgina Lynn Dejesus with Elizabeth Smart
Reuters/Landov; inset: Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
Very few people can truly understand what the three women rescued from years in captivity can be feeling today – and what they may face in the years to come.

Elizabeth Smart is one of them, and she has a message.

"First of all, I'd make sure these young women know that nothing that happened to them is their fault," Smart tells PEOPLE. "They still have the same worth. They're still valuable. They haven't lost any of their worth to what's happened."

Smart was kidnapped from her home at age 14 in 2002 and forced to be a sex slave for nine months. She's now a newlywed and advocate for missing children.



"They can still do whatever they want in life," Smart says. "They should never feel like they can't do something because of what's happened to them. There is still so much more to life than what happened to them the last 10 years. They have so many years to go forward and be happy, I'd encourage them to not feel restricted."



The women, teenagers when they disappeared a decade ago, were rescued this week in Cleveland after one of them called 911. A 6-year-old believed to the daughter of the one of the women also was rescued. Three brothers have been arrested.

Smart says that what the women now need is rest – and their space.



"I hope everyone can respect their privacy," she says. "Obviously, they have been through so much and we shouldn't even begin to speculate on what's been happening the last 10 years, why they could escape now and why they couldn't then. We really have no right to ask these questions we'll never understand because we weren't there.

"The best thing anybody could give them is to certainly celebrate the miracle that happened," she continues, "but give them their privacy and allow them to find their bearings and reconnect to the lives that they lost. I encourage everyone to give them their space and time. Just allow them to be."

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