As the city reels still from the staggering abuse by Eric Uller, I want to bring your attention to the wider problem of domestic violence and child abuse that occurs on a regular basis all across the southland. The numbers are staggering, shocking and at first unbelievable.
One in four women and one in seven men have been the victims of severe domestic abuse (beating, strangling, burning). The most affected group is women who are 18-24. I don’t know why that is. I have my suspicions that it has to do with youthful unfamiliarity with relationships and unrealistic expectations of partners – but I’m not a social scientist – just a divorce lawyer who has spent the last 20 years dealing with the aftermath of domestic violence in the courts.
On June 12, 1994 when Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered, assailant unknown at this time, (but again I have my suspicions…) it was a seminal moment in the world of domestic violence awareness and prevention. Her death and the subsequent awareness campaigns have led to a rewriting of the laws on domestic violence, an increase in studies of the long-term effects on children, and a profound change in the ways that judges and the courts address child custody.
Domestic violence used to be a “family matter” and few police officers or judges wanted anything to do with it. From the police perspective, they have an increased chance of being harmed when on a domestic violence call, compared to a regular call. For the judges, they are in a horribly conflicted spot as they try to tease out the truth of what really happened from two litigants both of whom have reasons to lie, or at least stretch the truth. No judge wants to be known as the one who let an abuser off easy and then had someone end up dead. Consequently, both judges and the police have taken to the pattern of “safest route forward” which now means at least one person is being arrested, and when the case gets to family court, the judges then make that person jump through, frequently insurmountable hoops, to see their children again.
The long-term effects of domestic violence and sexual assault on children was front and center as the topic of the day as I attended the annual ICAN/NEXUS conference this month. ICAN is the Los Angeles County’s Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect. This is a cross-agency coordinated annual event that brings together social workers, psychiatrists, attorneys, and many others who are all dealing with the effects of domestic violence in the family. ICAN is led by Executive Director Deanne Tilton Durfee along with Nancy Urquilla and Marianne Yamato. The full ICAN council members are a veritable Who’s Who of California leadership from Xavier Becerra to the Los Angeles County Sheriff. The Chairperson of the ICAN Associates who put on the annual conference is actress Lindsey Wagner.
This was my 4th or 5th year attending and I love to go because I get to see my uberHandsome friend Kenneth Rios who is one of the organizers each year, in addition to Sabina Alvarez, John Solano, Paul Click, Sandy DeVos, Tom Fraser, Cathy Walsh, Edie Shulman, Karla Latin, and Jodi Chen.
The main keynotes are usually people doing amazing work in a hard environment. Last year it was my friend Matt Sandusky who spoke about his abuse at the hands of his adoptive father Jerry Sandusky, and the work that it spurred him to do today, advocating for victims. This year’s keynote speaker was attorney Paul Mones who takes on large organizations like the Catholic Church over their abuse of children. (Don’t be surprised if we see his name more, as the Eric Uller cases come forward). The impact of organizational and institutional cover-ups on the children is profound, with lifelong damage done.
Santa Monica is going to face some ugly days ahead I imagine as the Uller case gets more and more uncovered. There were many great takeaways from the ICAN conference this year, but the one that struck me the most, was how long the victims take to heal enough to where they can confront their own pain. For men it’s usually in their late 30’s or early 40’s before the relationship issues become so drastic that they have to excise the pain. We may not know the full extent of the damage that Eric Uller caused for decades, or perhaps we never will. But thanks to the efforts of people Paul Mones, Matt Sandusky, Deanne Tilton Durfee and the many participants the ICAN/NEXUS Conference, progress is made to help those damaged, heal.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at email@example.com or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra