“I can’t think of another issue that affects so many people and where less is being done.”
–MT Connolly, lawyer, activist, elder abuse expert
Elder abuse is a significant problem that, for years, has flown under the radar of both law makers and the public’s consciousness. Some studies indicate that as many as 5 million seniors are victimized each year, and over 80% of these cases are never reported. Though demographic trends show significant growth in the numbers of elders in the United States and as a percentage of the population, this issue continues to remain in the shadows.
Take for example Mr. Y, our 75 year old client, whose niece coerced him to live in her shed in squalid conditions, while she made illegal bank withdrawals from his account. GBLS Senior Paralegal Maria Mendonca-Costanzo represented him to open a new bank account, set up direct deposits of his social security checks, protect his pension account from depletion, and successfully assisted him with a public housing application. He will move into his new apartment in Boston this January.
Stories like Mr. Y’s are not uncommon. The Elder Abuse Prevention Project began in the Fall of 2013 in response to the growing number of abuse cases appearing through our intake system. Led by Senior Attorney Betsey Crimmins, the Project’s primary goals are to expand preventative efforts and to raise the profile of this important issue. The project does so by:
- Representing victims in the court system,
- Collaborating with community partners to launch both a public awareness campaign and a community-wide response to elder abuse,
- Advocating for legislative change, and
- Training and outreaching to seniors and elder service providers.
The importance of preventative work, we believe, cannot be overstated. Not only does abuse cause untold suffering for its victims and their families, but it also costs taxpayers billions of dollars annually in Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal and state expenditures when resource-intensive interventions are necessary to respond to a crisis. To this end, our Project has developed a community-wide response to elder abuse.
What does that mean? It means that we are engaging with and empowering local community leaders to acknowledge and respond to the reality that elder abuse is indeed happening to our friends and neighbors.
How are we doing it? Bringing together a coalition of community members, like law enforcement, adult protective services, senior centers, housing authority personnel, small business owners, faith leaders, and bank employees. We hold town hall forums, events at senior centers and libraries, create public service announcements for Public TV, and lead outreach and training presentations.This is a grassroots initiative.
Finally, why? Seniors live, work, shop, and receive services in their own communities, and often have trust relationships with individuals located at the above institutions. When local leaders understand the signs and risk factors for abuse, they become instrumental partners in destigmatizing the issue, encouraging an open and honest dialogue about elder abuse, and ultimately connecting an elder to help before a crisis occurs.
In future posts, we’ll spotlight our community initiatives already underway. In the meantime, we encourage you to reflect on any notions or assumptions you may have about elder abuse, and what role, if any, you can play in protecting the safety and dignity of older folks in your community.