TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) -- It's a secret leaders say they want to get out into the open — child sexual abuse. On Tuesday, 150 leaders participated in the 17th Annual FACT Conference in Tupelo.
This year's theme "Celebrating Community Connections" featured the creator of Erin's Law, Erin Merryn.
"93 percent of the time the ones hurting your children are the ones you know and trust," said Merryn.
Merryn, of Illinois, said she is on a mission.
"Pretty much to put these sex offenders out of business," said Merryn.
From ages 6 to 8 1/2 and ages 11-13, she said men molested and raped her. She said she kept the incident a secret until her 11-year-old sister confessed to being raped also. She said now she is traveling the nation to get all 50 states to pass Erin's Law.
"Erin's Law educates kids — age appropriate curriculum — safe touch, unsafe touch, safe secrets, unsafe secrets. (The law) empowers kids if they are ever touched inappropriately or sexually abused to tell," said Merryn.
So far, Erin's Law has been passed in four states and is being introduced in eight others. One of those states introducing the law in January is Mississippi.
"This is something we are determined to do — to put children first. They not only need to learn how to protect themselves at a fire drill but at home and other places," said state Sen. Nancy Collins of Tupelo.
Therapist Willie Sanders from Millcreek of Pontotoc says the conference encouraged leaders and community advocates to dig deeper when a teen is acting out.
"For example, if they are fighting or using excessive profanity or always in ISD, there is something beyond that," said Sanders.
Therapist Lane McClellan agrees. She said the majority of her patients have been sexually abused, and while many of them talk about it now, she said many haven't.
"Just getting the children the confidence and courage to speak up if something has happened to them and that it's okay to talk about it," said McClellan.
The conference also featured topics on human trafficking and domestic violence.
Vendors were present, and resources were available for the community to connect.