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Handkerchiefs dry away tears. This month, they'll also be used to tell the story of those tears.

"Tears of the Children," a national art exhibit, features handkerchief art - stories of pain and suffering drawn on small white squares of linen by adult survivors of child sexual abuse.In "Thank God for Pillows" by a 39-year-old named Mark, a little boy hides his face beneath a pillow while a giant adult hand with sharp claws reaches for him.

Charlie Wolfe, 43, has multiple personalities, alcoholism, bulimia, anorexia and post-traumatic stress syndrome. His painting, "Hiding with my best friend," is a grim rendering of a little boy huddled down in a dark space, clutching a doll.

Color and the outline of a girl's face are splashed and slashed across one handkerchief under the banner: "It wasn't my fault."

The exhibit will be part of the annual child-abuse prevention conference, meeting at Weber State University Union Building Aug. 8 and 9.

Dramatic as it is, "Tears of the Children" is only a small part of the two-day conference, sponsored by the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Utah. Tuesday, Aug. 8, the conference focuses on child abuse prevention. Wednesday, Aug. 9, experts will examine the impact of domestic violence on children.

Keynote speakers are James Garbarino, psychology professor at Cornell University, and Elaine Schieck, clinical research coordinator at the London Family Court Clinic in Canada.

Local and international experts will cover topics that include normal juvenile sexual development, abuse and religion, public child abuse, child pornography on the Internet, corporal punishment, child fatalities and grandparent's rights.

Domestic violence topics include anger and substance abuse, school-based programming that prevents violence at home, investigation of domestic violence, and child protection and health.

The "Tears of the Children" exhibit was started in 1990, said founder Judy Hayes Ellison, but traces its genesis back 40 years. Two small children who were forced to participate in ritual abuse promised each other that they would remember the children they say were destroyed by a cult.

A few years ago, Ellison contacted therapists around the world, who encouraged their patients to express themselves on the handkerchiefs. The collection now numbers more than 800. The exhibit features 80 of them.

According to Stacy Iverson of the council, therapists will be on hand to provide support to those viewing the disturbing exhibit.

The conference is open to the public. Cost is $60 for both days or $30 for one day. Students can earn one upper-division credit for an additional $15 fee. For information or to register, call 399-8430.