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Originally published Saturday, October 27, 2012 at 5:12 PM

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Conference at Penn State aims to raise awareness of child sex abuse

Hoping to raise awareness, Pennsylvania State University this week will hold a two-day conference on child sex abuse, coming nearly one year after the release of the blistering grand jury presentment outlining child rape and molestation by its former assistant football coach. Keynote speakers include Elizabeth Smart, the Utah teen who was kidnapped, raped and held for months and boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard, who also suffered sex abuse as a child.

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PHILADELPHIA — Hoping to raise awareness, Pennsylvania State University this week will hold a two-day conference on child sex abuse, coming nearly one year after the release of the blistering grand-jury presentment outlining child rape and molestation by its former assistant football coach.

Keynote speakers include Elizabeth Smart, the Utah teen who was kidnapped, raped and held for months, and boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard, who also suffered sex abuse as a child.

Experts will discuss the effect of abuse, the best and latest in treatment and prevention, the use of the Internet by pedophiles and other topics during the event, which begins Monday at the Penn Stater Hotel.

More than 500 faculty, students, law enforcement, child-care workers and others registered to attend the event, which sold out faster than any other conference in Penn State's history, said Kate Staley, co-developer of the conference and a clinical child psychologist at Penn State.

Much of the event will be live-streamed, archived and available through the university's website for free.

Organizers hope to raise awareness of the prevalence of child sex abuse and educate and inspire people to act. "We really wanted to engage people's hearts," as well as their minds, Staley said.

The university on Sunday night also will host a free event open to the public featuring three child-sex-abuse survivors, including Democratic state Rep. Louise Williams Bishop, who revealed last November in the Capitol Rotunda her abuse by her stepfather at age 12.

The conference again will foist Pennsylvania's flagship university into the national limelight — this time, officials hope, for a good reason.

"It's really to engage a national network of experts," said Penn State President Rodney Erickson. "We said early on ... Penn State would become a leader and do its part to raise awareness of this issue and to assist in efforts to prevent, to treat and raise awareness of the problem of child sexual abuse."

Much has happened at the university since the grand-jury testimony in explicit detail described how Jerry Sandusky sexually abused young boys he met through the Second Mile, a charity he founded for underprivileged youth.

Sandusky, 68, was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison this month for assaults on 10 young boys.

Both former Penn State President Graham Spanier and iconic football Coach Joe Paterno were forced out of their jobs over accusations that they failed to act on earlier allegations. Paterno later died of cancer. The university's suspended athletic director Tim Curley, and ex-vice president Gary Schultz are scheduled to go on trial in January for allegedly lying to the grand jury and failing to report allegations.

And the university is still reeling from the National Collegiate Athletic Association's sweeping sanctions.

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