Feb 03, 2014 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
It’s a common crime that often goes undetected, unreported, unprosecuted and unpunished. It’s called elder abuse.
“In their later years, people become more vulnerable,” said Jenny Hicks, Abuse in Later Life project coordinator for Vera House, Inc. in Syracuse. “People start losing their eyesight, hearing becomes weaker and sometimes dementia sets in. And by the way, older folks have money.”
Elder abuse includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse, caregiver neglect and financial exploitation. “And 90 percent of the time it comes at the hands of family members,” Hicks added. “It’s shocking.”
A recent statewide study determined that, after turning 60 years old, 14 percent of seniors, regardless of their race, gender or socio-economic status, had fallen victim to such abuse. What’s worse, Hicks said, is that “only one of every 35 incidents comes to the attention of authorities in our region.”
In 2012, the county’s Protective Services for Adults agency received 118 referrals regarding suspected elder abuse, an increase of 18 percent over the previous year. Hicks estimated that, in reality, some 4,000 incidents went unreported in 2012.
On Jan. 29, Hicks joined a panel convened at Liverpool Public Library by the Onondaga County District Attorney Advisory Council to discuss the issue. Coordinated by Advisory Council officer Joyce Abold, the panel also included Liverpool Police Chief Don Morris, Assistant District Attorney Anthony Germano, and two members of the Sheriff’s Office, Lt. Jon Anderson and Chief John Balloni (pronounced Bell-LOAN).
Balloni, the former Baldwinsville police chief, recalled a classic case of a handyman scamming an elderly couple who lived down the street from him there.
“We discovered that the work he’d been hired to perform was not being done and that he was providing the couple with falsified receipts from a hardware store,” Balloni recalled. “We were able to trace $15,000 worth of work this young man had not done for this elderly couple.”
More often, however, whether the abuse is physical, emotional or financial, the perpetrators are family members or caregivers. “These perpetrators know their victims very well,” said ADA Germano. “So they know what buttons to push.”
Lt. Anderson pointed out that many seniors remain unfamiliar with new technologies such as computers. “So they rely on younger family members who do use those technologies, and sometimes those family members take advantage of that situation.”
As a result, Balloni said, victims remain reluctant to blow the whistle. “The attitude is you don’t air your family’s dirty laundry in public,” he said, “so they just don’t report the crime.”
Despite that reluctance, Balloni said, “It’s not hopeless. There’s a lot we can do, but first we have to make people aware of it.”
Chief Morris thanked Hicks for training programs instituted by Vera House which have benefitted the officers of the Liverpool Police Department. Vera House advises police, neighbors and caregivers to look out for unexplained injuries and bruises, excessive fears and withdrawal, sudden inability to pay bills and changes in appetite or personal hygiene.
“A typical victim is a woman over 75 who is becoming isolated and depressed,” Anderson said.
Morris urged observers of elder abuse to come forward. “When you see something that is just not right, that’s when you should call us,” the chief said. “You’re not bothering us. This is our job. We’d rather look into it and have it turn out to be nothing than to let it go and find out later it was something awful.”
Balloni, who is running for sheriff this year, believes police departments, social service agencies and prosecutors all need to pull together to combat elder abuse. “We need to be there every step of the way as a community,” he said.