Eric Uller (LASD)

by Rochel Leah Bernstein and Patty Dailey Lewis

As parents, we are living in a remarkable and trying moment in time. A seemingly constant wave of sexual abuse scandals have captivated the public discourse in a way it never has before – and it seems finally the epidemic of sexual abuse plaguing our most vulnerable population, our children, is coming to the fore.

From the recent outbreak of reports covering the abuse within the Catholic Church to the mass sexual abuse of young gymnasts, among other local and national sports teams, the accounts are graphic and disturbing; the latest of which has hit far closer to home.

Eric Uller, a long time Santa Monica city employee has been arrested on suspicion of abusing children throughout the 1990s, while he served as a volunteer for the Police Activities League program. Santa Monica PAL, a public-private partnership operated by the City of Santa Monica since the late 1980s, follows the state and national PAL model, bringing youth and adult volunteers together in the name of mentorship, wellness and fun.

As a society, we seem to have been living in the dark, perpetuating a culture of silence and institutionalizing a normative taboo around sexual violence, particularly in regards to children. For far too long, we have been living in fear and collective shame, entirely unprepared to address child sexual abuse and the endemic nature of the crisis now unfolding before us. Child sexual abuse is a silent public health crisis. And it does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, gender identification, or religious affiliation. As a result, survivors of child sexual abuse surround us, living in a constant state of shame and fear.

The statistics are staggering. One in ten children will be abused before the age of 18. Six of ten will never report it, because they are almost always abused by someone they know, love, or trust. The collective societal impact and pain is immeasurable, and permeates our culture and our consciousness.

It is incumbent upon us to wake up and take responsibility for the voiceless and powerless – for our children – and for the adult survivors among us who bear the deep and silent scars of abuse. The time has come for real, lasting change and an end to the culture of silence and lack of preparedness to address and end child sexual abuse.

But there is hope. The critical tools required to protect our children are not complicated. They are not controversial. They are not difficult to implement.

As parent advocates, we call upon the residents and community leaders of the City of Santa Monica – and all cities and states across the country – to break free from their silence, to shine light on the darkness and take action to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring. It is necessary to start asking difficult questions of parents, youth serving organizations, peers, politicians, educators, community leaders, and to galvanize a culture shift surrounding sexual violence against children. We must do more to engage with the incredible holistic resources that are available to our communities through partners including Darkness to Light, the Beau Biden Foundation, RAINN, Child Safety Pledge and World Childhood Foundation. We must have courage in the face of fear to transform our societies. We must institute change in impactful, meaningful ways, ensuring that all schools, camps, and after school activities have best practice standards and policies instituted and that our educators, volunteers, administrators, parents and public officials undergo trainings on sexual abuse prevention and intervention. Policies, procedures, and programming that focuses on child protection are necessary everywhere, along with a community engagement on child safety and sexual abuse prevention.

In order to do so, caretakers and caregivers must be empowered to ask critical and important questions of those youth serving organizations to which they are directly connected or which exist within their communities. These questions include: does the organization have a license to provide child care in the jurisdiction in which it operates? Does it have clear, written policies about child sexual abuse? Do staff and volunteers undergo a vetting process? Do they receive training in abuse prevention, detection and response? How are child safety policies put into practice by organizational management? And to the facilities promote a safe physical environment for all the children (and adults) it serves? Here (http://childsafetypledge.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/ysos_toolkit_-_07.23.18.pdf) is a link to the Child Safety Pledge toolkit on how to start these types of conversations with organizations.

And on an individual level we urge all parents to conduct these types of daring discussions with your family and community members – with your partner, your child, your lay leaders, local politicians, educators and peers. Here (http://childsafetypledge.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/daring_discussions_toolkit.pdf) is a link to the Child Safety Pledge toolkit on how to engage in these sensitive conversations at home.

Beau Biden often said, “as adults, we have a legal and moral obligation to stand up and speak out for children who are being abused—they cannot speak for themselves.” On a communal level we ask every child serving organization to take this call to action seriously. All those who serve and work with children should know their obligations. Prevention begins with knowledge and education. A regular review of policies and a robust prevention training will dramatically improve the safety of our children.

Together, we have an opportunity like never before to seize this moment and create a safer world for our children. Let’s not let this moment pass us by. Because if not us, then who?

 

Rochel Leah Bernstein is the Founder of Child Safety Pledge

 

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1 Comment

  1. I am not surprised to see cases like this now coming to light more and more….awareness of child abuse is growing and people are speaking out more and more, thanks in part to #MeToo, the Larry Nasser and USA Gymnastics case, the Catholic Church, Scouts, and on and on. These cases of abuse have been coming to light in Australia, Ireland, the UK and other countries. The fact is that anyone can abuse children, anywhere and at any time. The myth of “stranger danger” is just that – a myth. As the author says, children are far more likely to be abused by someone they or their family or community knows and trusts. We must put in place stronger policies, procedures, codes of conduct, and screening for employees and volunteers. Children have to be protected from abuse – we cannot wait for abuse to happen. I’ve just returned from working overseas in the child safeguarding field for 11 years, and I am so glad to see awareness and prevention measures happening right here in my neighborhood. Great work, Rochel and Child Safety Pledge. I’ll be following you and your work closely!

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