Apr 202011

Apr 11, 2011 (Family Violence Prevention Fund)

In March, the Senate Special Committee on Aging used Hollywood star power to illuminate a problem too often hidden or ignored: elder abuse.

At a hearing entitled Justice for All: Ending Elder Abuse, Neglect and Financial Exploitation, movie legend Mickey Rooney told the committee about the emotional and financial abuse he suffered at the hands of his stepson and his stepson’s wife. Rooney said he was “stripped of the ability to make even the most basic decisions…My daily life became unbearable,” Politico reports. Rooney expressed hope that his testimony would draw attention to the issue: “I am here today because it is so important that I share my story with others, especially those who may be watching at home, suffering silently as I was.”

In a report released to coincide with the hearing, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggested that the government underestimates the full extent of elder abuse. The report – Elder Justice: Stronger Federal Leadership Could Enhance National Response to Elder Abuse – concluded that elder abuse cases could overwhelm inadequately staffed adult protective service agencies in many states. Testifying at the hearing, GAO Director of Education, Work Force and Income Security Kay Browne warned that funding for these state agencies was not keeping pace with the problem.

Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) President and Founder Esta Soler, in testimony submitted for the record, called domestic violence “a problem across the lifespan – and, as a nation, we have not paid enough attention to the oldest victims. They suffer physical, sexual, psychological and financial abuse, incest, and other forms of violence at a time when disability, dementia and other factors may make it difficult or impossible for them to protect themselves.”

Soler stressed that one key to ending elder abuse is training judges and law enforcement personnel to better recognize and respond to it. For more than a decade, the FVPF has been training judges and prosecutors to recognize and understand the dynamics of domestic and sexual violence. In recent years, it expanded the trainings to address elder abuse specifically.

Through the National Judicial Institute on Domestic Violence – in which the FVPF partners with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges – interactive workshops help both new and experienced state court judges and judicial officers hone their response to cases involving violence against the elderly. More information on the National Judicial Institute on Domestic Violence is available online.

After participating in Institute programs, “judges are better able to define elder abuse and identify common abuse tactics, excuses and myths related to perpetrators’ abuse of elders,” Soler says. “They can discuss the range of barriers that older people might encounter in court and enhance physical, legal, and attitudinal accessibility for older adult victims. These results among jurists, Soler says, are “truly promising.”

Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) introduced legislation (S. 464) to establish a grant program to enhance training and services to prevent abuse in later life. The End Abuse in Later Life Act of 2011 is co-sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Robert Casey (D-PA).

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