For the first time in its history, the Department of Justice observed World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on Tuesday, June 15, 2010. In ceremonial and educational events on both coasts, top Justice Department officials came together with workers in the field to raise awareness about the vulnerability of the elder population to abuse and violence. The events were part of the Department’s year-long commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
World Elder Abuse Day, first celebrated in 2005, is organized by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. According to the best available estimates, between 1 million and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have experienced abuse; and for each reported case about five more cases go unreported. To provide communities with training and resources to combat elder abuse and serve survivors in later life, the Department of Justice has provided more than $25 million in funding to 75 communities since 2002 through the Office on Violence Against Women’s (OVW) Abuse in Later Life Program, and more than $6.7 million to 20 programs funded by the Office for Justice Programs.
In Anaheim, California, OVW Director Susan Carbon and Counsel to the Associate Attorney General Mala Adiga joined Anaheim Police Chief John Welter; the Anaheim Family Justice Center; UC, Irvine’s Elder Abuse Forensic Center; the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL) and victim service providers to discuss promising practices and community collaborations working with elder abuse survivors.
Director Carbon outlined the stark realities faced by victims of elder abuse:
“Age or disability may increase the isolation of older individuals. Victims may refrain from seeking help or calling the police due to shame or embarrassment… Myths about sexual assault – that only young women are raped, for example… can prevent medical and other professionals from recognizing indicators of sexual assault.”
Adiga referred to the VAWA 15 campaign, noting that:
“our goal is to do more than simply commemorate an anniversary. … This also means talking about things that may be uncomfortable. The stories of elder Americans who have been abused and exploited at the hands of those closest to them are one of those topics.”
During the event, NCALL announced the release of the film, Walking in Our Shoes, an OVW-funded national training video. The film is introduced by The View’s Barbara Walters, a member of the Justice Department’s “Join the List” campaign, a group of more than 100 celebrities who have lent their names to the Department’s effort to raise awareness.
Also on June 15, the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services (HHS) sponsored a World Elder Abuse Awareness Day event in Washington, D.C. This event brought together the contributions of experts in many fields, from law enforcement officials to long-term care administrators, to explore the best practices for increased detection of these crimes and improved response for victims.
Assistant Attorney General Tony West spoke of ways that the Department fights more subtle and insidious crimes against the elderly, by nursing home operators and drug manufacturers, for example. Noting that he now oversees the Department’s efforts to protect seniors from financial and health care fraud, he described the horrific neglect of elderly residents in five nursing homes in Missouri, remarking that, “We know that the character of a society is often reflected by how it treats those at the dawn and in the sunset of life.”
Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Mary Lou Leary directly addressed the need for the Justice Department’s programs:
“We know that the best way to help our nation’s seniors is by assisting the professionals who are…fighting a largely silent crime where victims and perpetrators are often closely related, and even seemingly dedicated caregivers engage in abuse or neglect.”
Also participating in the Washington, D.C. event were HHS Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary on Aging Cindy R. Padilla; Kathleen Quinn from the National Adult Protection Services Association; King County (Washington State) Prosecutor Page Ulrey; and Bob Blancato from the Elder Justice Coalition.