Criminal Justice Degree Guide: Elder Abuse and Prevention
The field of criminal justice envelops a vast array of issues in modern society in an effort to uphold control by mitigating crime. One major problem inherent in society is the abuse that is sometimes inflicted upon a weak or otherwise vulnerable person by another who is strong or powerful. A justice system’s responsibility is to intervene in such a situation to restore or create safety for the victim. Elder abuse is one such rising problem in the United States, though it may be partly that there has been a greater awareness of it in recent decades. Historically, elder abuse has been thought of as a social problem, but increasingly it is viewed as a very serious crime.
In an ongoing effort to provide the best criminal justice resources, gathered below are helpful sections on the legal aspects of elder abuse. Find references for help hotlines, articles, state law resources, and organizations and advocacy groups for families to turn to if abuse is suspected. This resource is intended to provide students, criminal justice professionals and the caretakers of the elderly with valuable research information.
Overview of Elder Abuse
Abuse toward an aged person happens more frequently than people realize. Often, cases are unreported because vulnerable elderly victims may feel too threatened or frightened to speak out to those they would otherwise trust. To make matters more difficult, perpetrators are most often people who have legal care over an elderly person, like a nursing care facility or a close family member.
National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), a component of the U.S. Administration on Aging (AOA), offers resources for individuals, families and caretakers who are concerned about a an elderly person’s well-being, or who suspect that some kind of abuse may be occurring. NCEA delineates seven types of abuse toward senior citizens:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional or psychological abuse
- Financial or material exploitation
Warning signs of abuse are important to heed, such as unexplained bodily bruises or pressure marks. Someone experiencing neglect may be in a state of filth, or seem dehydrated or undernourished. Just as such physical signs may be hard to pick up on, emotional or psychological ones may be, too. A person who is unusually morose or quiet may be holding in the truth about painful verbal or other oppressive abuse going on.
When abuse is suspected, a report must be made to local adult protective agencies. NCEA provides hotline numbers by state for seniors who are in some kind of immediate danger. Questions about a state’s law for handling elder abuse is handled differently from state to state—each has its own unique departmental set-up for response. Some are through a state’s health and human services department, others through the attorney general’s office. Some states are in the process of setting up more elaborate resource offices and websites, but all have hotline numbers to call. Lower down within this resource is a list of links to the best organizations to contact for each state.
Three categories of state law are in effect for elder abuse. All states have a Long Term Care Ombudsman Program. The Older Americans Act of 1965 stipulated that in order for states to receive federal funding, they would be required to respond to residents who experienced abuse or neglect in long-term care facilities. Some states have separate laws to govern residents in homes for the aging. A series of laws called the Adult Protective Laws serve some states’ residents by requiring a reporting and investigation of abuse, and an enlisting of helpful social service agencies. Few federal laws cover elder abuse at this point, but as of March 2011, discussion was still in process within Congress to help remedy this shortcoming. Below are some links to further background reading on elder abuse studies and observed trends.
- Elder Abuse and Neglect: In Search of Solutions: The American Psychological Association presents a discussion on the notion that each person, regardless of age, is entitled to safety, respect, and care.
- Financial Abuse: The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA) gives a detailed perspective on the types of financial abuse the aged might experience, and the lists possible perpetrators, ranging from family members to professionals.
- The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study: Completed in 1998, this study (prepared by the National Center on Elder Abuse and requested by Congress) discovered that for every claim of elder abuse, five more cases go unreported.
Criminal Justice and Elder Abuse
Case law for elder abuse has begun to grow in the past few years, making it possible for those in the legal system to better serve the victims of mistreatment. Find out more by perusing the resources below.
- Criminal Justice Online: For the first time in history, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was recognized on June 15 in 2010.
- Factsheets: Elder Abuse and the Law: The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault has prepared a page of information to explain such aspects as mandatory reporting, and investigation and intervention.
- Is Elder Abuse a Crime?: Recent developments pertaining to elder abuse.
- National Criminal Justice Reference Service: This organization funded a 2009 report called the National Elder Mistreatment Study, which provided meaningful statistics on elder abuse, including the increase of financial crimes.
- National Institute of Justice: The case is made on this page that while elder abuse and neglect have traditionally been viewed as a social problem, it should be seen equally as a criminal issue.
- The Changing Role of the Courts in Elder Abuse Cases: An article by Lori A. Stiegel, J.D., posted on Utahbar.org, makes the case for a changing perspective from elder abuse as a social problem to that of a legal one, and that services and legal actions are needed for intervention.
- Western Criminology Review: Read an article by Brian Payne and Randy Gainey called “The Criminal Justice Response to Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes: A Routine Activities Perspective.”
Some state and federal organizations provide information that is relevant to all citizens in the United States. A selection is provided here, and beneath are links to every state’s specific elder abuse resources, regarding law and intervention.
- Elder Financial Protection Network: EFPN is a nonprofit organization in the state of California dedicated to raising awareness of elder financial abuse.
- National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs: NASOP, a nonprofit organization, is made up of ombudsmen representing their state programs on long-term care.
- National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities: NASUAD provides guidance for the 38 existing State Long Term Care Ombudsman programs, and offers a resource here.
- Locate an Ombudsman, State Agencies, and Citizen Advocacy Groups: Sponsored by NORC (The National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center) is an interactive map with contacts for regional ombudsmen in each state.
- Location of Long-Term Care Ombudsmen Programs in States: Through the NASUAD website (see directly above), find out what kind of SUA (States United for Aging) program is offered in each of the United States.
INDIVIDUAL STATE RESOURCES:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Government Agencies and other Advocacy Groups for Families
Find useful information on elder abuse at the following websites.
- Administration on Aging: Find elderly abuse definitions and warning signs to look for on AOA’s page, as well as information about what to do if abuse is suspected.
- National Center on Elder Abuse: NCEA, part of the U.S. Administration on Aging, is an available resource for all parties associated with protecting the elderly in the United States, from families to care practitioners to those who work in the justice system.
- The National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center: Funded by the Administration on Aging, NORC assists residents who experience problems with their long-term nursing care facilities by referring families to appropriate agencies and by helping to enforce state and federal laws designed to protect the aged.
Resources for Families and Other Resources
Here are a handful of organizations that families or caregivers can turn to for help if a loved one is experiencing mistreatment.
- Distinguishing Between Abuse, Neglect and Self-Neglect: The University of Missouri-Kansas City presents an outline of symptoms to recognize to help determine what kind of abuse a loved one is facing.
- Elder Abuse Law: Is Momentum Building for New Legislation?: Read the March 2011 article on the Zucker Law Firm PLLC website and learn about state and federal laws for elder abuse already in place.
- Eldercare Locator: Find local services for older adults with a search page offered by eldercare.gov, part of the U.S. Administration on Aging.
- Helpguide.org: A listing of various types of elder abuse, associated risk factors, and prevention are all provided at this resource.
- House Passes Elder Abuse Legislation: Read about the bill.
- Filing a Nursing Home Abuse Complaint: Nursing Home Abuse News.com provides advice on initiating complaints of abuse to state health agencies.