November 29, 2010 12:00 PM

For the last year or so Elizabeth Smart has spent her days walking the streets of Paris, her Book of Mormon in hand, eagerly discussing church doctrine with anyone who will listen. So when the college senior interrupted her 18-month church mission with a trip home to Utah, she craved a change from all that pavement pounding. On her 23rd birthday, Nov. 3, Smart found the perfect antidote-a long bike ride with her family. Then on Nov. 8 Smart arrived relaxed at the Frank E. Moss Federal Courthouse in downtown Salt Lake City on a mission of a very different sort: to testify at the trial of the man who is accused of abducting her when she was 14 and forcing her to be his sex slave for nine long months. “She displayed grace, incredible composure and told her terrifying story with poise and precision,” says Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. “She has become a strong voice for justice.”

Despite her calm performance, her nine hours of testimony over three days were harrowing. Poised and confident, Smart recounted how Brian David Mitchell, now 57, forced her from her bed at knifepoint on June 5, 2002, and proceeded to turn her happy, innocent childhood into a relentless nightmare. On a daily basis, she testified, he raped her “up to three or four times,” using drugs and alcohol to lower her resistance. When he wasn’t sexually abusing her, Smart said, he sometimes kept her tethered to a tree. To ensure compliance, she testified, Mitchell threatened to kill both her and her family. Elizabeth’s father, Ed Smart, told PEOPLE shortly after his daughter wrapped up her testimony on Nov. 10, “I’m really proud of her, and I’m glad it’s over.”

Smart plans to monitor the remainder of the trial as a courtroom spectator, then will return to Paris to complete her LDS mission, which ends in April. She will resume her music studies at Brigham Young University next fall. Her life now, as she told PEOPLE before she began her mission, is about the future. “When [the trial] is over, I don’t want to think about it anymore,” she said. “I feel like I’m turning a new page in my life.”

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