TN First Lady walks for children - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Posted by: Joe Birch 4/14/04 9:16PM

TN First Lady walks for children

Tennessee's First Lady has become "first friend" of the state's child sexual abuse victims. Andrea Conte has worked tirelessly for victims of crime since she became one herself in the 1980s.

In front of a wall of teddy bears at the Child Advocacy Center comes this tiny, soft spoken, sixty-something powerhouse. First Lady Andrea Conte says she'll walk clear across Tennessee to help fight child sexual abuse.

"This is a serious problem and we can do something about it. I believe raising public awareness and supporting Child Advocacy Centers are the best hope these children have," Conte said.

A marathon walker already, the first lady has kept pace with the trauma crime victims suffer since she became one herself. At a Nashville business she co-owned in the late 19-80s, Ms. Conte was pistol whipped, robbed and kidnapped.

She managed to escape and eventually recovered from significant injuries suffered during the crime. The experience led her to start an organization called "You Have The Power, Know How To Use It," a non-profit corporation dedicated to raising awareness about crimes like child sexual abuse: Conte's corporation has produced documentaries like this one: "A View From The Shadows, Exposing the Minds of Child Sexual Offenders."

"Child sexual abuse is one of those crimes that is under reported yet it's very prevalent. There are some places where people do not consider it a crime," Conte said.

To change that, the first lady intends to walk to all 25 of Tennessee's Child Advocacy Centers and raise money so one can be established in each of the state's 31 judicial districts.

The centers provide expert child interviewers, police, therapists and even D-As devoted to protecting kids: "Giving a child a chance to tell the truth about something that happened to him can be liberating in and of itself," said Kevin Rirdan, a Shelby County Assistant DA.

"If we don't make this a mainstream issue, it will never have the resources it needs," Conte continued.

In an effort to provide those resources, the First Lady will kick off "Andrea Walks for Tennessee's Children" in Memphis on September 8th. You can sign up to walk or sponsor others at Andreawalks-dot-com.

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