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Elder Abuse: A Critical Issue for Law Enforcement

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An 86-year-old woman’s adult son moves back in with his mother after a divorce. Unemployed with an alcohol and drug addiction, he starts using his mother’s ATM card at the corner liquor store to withdraw cash to pay off his heroin dealer. When the mother confronts her son about the missing money, he tells her she must be “losing it” and threatens to put her in a nursing home if she ever mentions this to anyone.

A 78-year-old man gets a phone call from a friendly woman who tells him he has won the Jamaican lottery. All he needs to do is wire ten thousand dollars to an offshore account for processing and legal fees, and he will receive a ten million dollar windfall. Over the next three months, the man wires his entire life savings, nearly half a million dollars, to various accounts overseas, based on the promise that an influx of cash is imminent. He never receives a penny of his promised “winnings.”

A 75-year-old woman meets a 40-year-old man on the street outside her bank. They marry quickly, and his name is added to her bank accounts, which he proceeds to drain. One day, angry that she isn’t moving quickly enough, he beats her on the legs with her own cane. Paramedics are called and she is taken to the hospital. When asked how she was injured, she becomes emotional but refuses to talk about the incident.

stk27643sptThese stories are all cases of elder abuse, a complex and widespread problem with 3 to 4 million victims every year nationwide. As the number of older Americans continues to grow exponentially, the number of elder abuse victims is poised to swell concomitantly. By the year 2030, nearly a quarter of Americans will be 60 or older, and 9.6 million of them will be 85 and older. This oldest segment of the population, referred to as “old old” is the fastest growing demographic in America.

Law Enforcement’s Role
Given these projections, law enforcement professionals can expect a sharp increase in elder abuse cases at every level nationwide. As you can see from the vignettes above, responding to and investigating elder abuse cases requires knowledge about a diverse range of issues, including domestic violence, fraud and other financial crimes, and mental hygiene, to name a few. It also requires an understanding of healthy aging and its associated vulnerabilities and how these factors can prevent elder abuse from being properly identified and addressed.

In New York State, for every one case of elder abuse that is reported to law enforcement or social service agencies, another 23 go unreported. Assuming this statistic can be extrapolated nationwide, law enforcement officers and officials must prioritize training on how to identify elder abuse and overcome the barriers to its reporting in order to successfully combat this crime spree on the elderly.

Training Opportunities Focused on Elder Abuse Identification
In 2006, the United Nations declared June 15th World Elder Abuse Awareness Day as a symbol of the universal efforts required by different professions and communities across the globe to rid our world of elder abuse. There is no more appropriate day to announce that American Military University will be partnering with the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale to create education and training opportunities on the subject of elder abuse for law enforcement professionals.

Our first webinar, “Elder Abuse: Law Enforcement Recognition and Response,” will be held on Wednesday, August 6th at 1pm. Register for the webinar.

We also maintain an Elder Abuse Special Topics Page in our online library, which will be an access point for all of the studies, resources and news articles that are critical to creating a well-informed cadre of officers and officials. We look forward to continuing to expand this program to better serve the many law enforcement professionals struggling with this critical issue.

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