Prosecuting Vulnerable and Elder Adult Abuse: An Interview with Hilary Weinberg and Jim Seeger

National Center on Elder Abuse

National Center on Elder Abuse 

With better health care, diet and exercise, most Americans are living longer: on average  78 years  – but can reach to an average of  89 years for some.

While that can mean great things – such as a longer life with family and friends – it also means that many of our elders and vulnerable adults have a greater risk of becoming victims of crimes specifically targeted to them.

“Vulnerable adult” crimes include an array of crimes that we’re all too familiar with: from physical and mental abuse to financial exploitation to neglect. 

Join hosts Hilary Weinberg and Jim Seeger to learn about not only the laws protecting this population in Arizona, but also to:

  • Learn to identify the indicators that someone might be being abused
  • Determine the best ways to help the individual
  • And, how to report a situation involving vulnerable adult abuse. 

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

 

Growth of Elderly Aging Population
Graphics Credit: National Center on Elder Abuse
 
 
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Your webinar is specifically about creating cases around vulnerable adult and elder abuse.  Why is this such a growing issue today? 

Hilary Weinberg: Vulnerable adult abuse has always been around.  However, with a large number of baby boomers approaching an older age, there are more older adults falling into this category.  Additionally, law enforcement is becoming more aware of this type of abuse and is also increasing training on handling these types of cases.  These are some of the factors that are increasing the numbers we are seeing.  Sadly these numbers are only a small percentage of the incidents of vulnerable adult abuse.  Victims are very reluctant to want to report their caregivers who are often the only family or other human contact they may have.

 

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In New York State, for every documented case of Elder Abuse

There were 24 unreported.

Under the Radar: New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study

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JCH: You combine these two populations together in your presentation – but they really are distinct populations. Can you speak to the similarities and differences law enforcement and justice personnel should keep in mind when working with these populations while trying to determine if abuse is taking place?

Jim Seeger: Part of the issue in separating an “Elder” from a “Vulnerable Adult” is that age does not automatically qualify someone as a vulnerable adult.  There are people in their 70’s who are athletic and perfectly able to hold their own both physically and mentally.  On the other hand, there are 18 year olds who are physically disabled or have a mental condition that would qualify them as a vulnerable adult.

 

 

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In 2014, of non-institutionalized adults, 36% of those 65+ and 10% of those 18-64 reported having a disability.

National Center on Elder Abuse, Statistics

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National Center on Elder Abuse
Graphic Credit: National Center on Elder Abuse
JCH: Part of the challenge is even identifying when abuse is even happening.  What are some of the signs that abuse could be happening? Why is is such a challenge to be able to identify when abuse is happening?

Hilary: There are warning signs.  Many are similar to those seen in cases of domestic violence as the dynamics of power and control are present in these cases.  Offenders often isolate the victim from family and friends or threaten victims with injury or abandonment.  Unexplained injuries are certainly something that should be considered.  Sudden changes in behavior or significant financial changes are also some red flags.  Sub-standard living conditions are also a concern.  Many times we rely on people who contact a victim to use the same level of consciousness they would if they suspect a child is being abused.  If you see something, say something.

 

 

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Elders who experienced abuse had a 300% higher risk of death.

Vulnerable Adult and Elder Abuse,” Peterson & Vaughn, 2013

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JCH: As you know, a large number of our readers and subscribers are in law enforcement, but we have representation from all parts of the justice arena. Can you share some specifics of what different types of justice professionals or first responders will gain by attending your webinar? What skills or new knowledge will they gain that they can immediately use the next day on the job?

Jim: Attendees will gather a better understanding of the prevalence of elder and vulnerable adult abuse, both physical and financial.  They will learn how to recognize the warning signs of abuse and methods to address each case.

 

Vulnerable Adult Victims
Photo Credit: Vulnerable Adult and Elder Abuse Presentation, Peterson & Vaughn
JCH: You've likely dealt with many situations of elder or vulnerable adult abuse? What advice do you have for law enforcement/justice professionals in working with these unique victims of abuse? 

Hilary: Be patient.  These are not very easy victims to understand but they are incredibly vulnerable and their daily lives can be affected by those we see as suspects.  Also, if you have a vulnerable adult reaching out, please respond.  This population is very hesitant to disclose abuse so when they take the steps to disclose, the matter requires special attention.

 

To learn more about “Prosecuting Vulnerable and Elder Adult Abuse,” click here.

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