Abuse of the elderly often goes unreported. Many victims do not think of elder abuse as a crime, and for those who do, they may not be in a position to advocate for themselves due to infirmities of aging. Sometimes the perpetrator is a family member or caregiver, leaving the elderly victim worried that they will be unable to care for themselves if they report the abuse.
Elder abuse can affect people of all backgrounds and social status and can affect both men and women. The following are common categories of elder mistreatment:
- Physical Abuse – Inflicting, or threatening to inflict, physical pain or injury on a vulnerable elder, or depriving them of a basic need.
- Emotional Abuse – Inflicting mental pain, anguish or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts.
- Sexual Abuse – Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind or coercing an elder to witness sexual behaviors.
- Financial Exploitation – Illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property or assets of a vulnerable elder.
- Neglect – Refusal or failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care or protection for a vulnerable elder. This includes self-neglect, where an older adult is simply unable to care for his or her self, resulting in risk to their physical well-being.
- Abandonment – Desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
An Annual Elder Abuse and Neglect report is compiled each year through a web-based system that tracks each county’s incident reports. In 2010, 5,285 cases of suspected abuse, neglect or financial exploitation involving older adults were reported in Wisconsin.
While self-neglect comprises almost 50% of such reports, financial exploitation follows as the most often reported elder abuse. Financial abuse continues to be a growing problem in this state, and older persons need to be cautious about what personal information they share with strangers who may contact them by mail, telephone or e-mail. The elderly are also often taken advantage of by family members and friends who become involved in an individual’s finances and have no legitimate reason for doing so.
Reporting Signs of Abuse
Knowing the signs of abuse and how to report it is the first step in preventing further abuse. If you suspect that an elderly person you know is being harmed physically, emotionally abused or financially exploited, you can make a report to your local Adult Protective Services agency. A listing of such agencies in Wisconsin can be found at https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/APS/Contacts/eaaragencies.htm. Such reports can be made anonymously, and given the sensitive nature of elder abuse issues, an investigating protective service worker will attempt to be as least intrusive as possible. While the outcome of an investigation may not result in a charge of “elder abuse,” individuals can be charged for stealing, battery, causing undo harm, domestic abuse, and other violations.
As a further remedy, in 2006, as part of an effort to better respond to violence against the elderly and other individuals at risk, Wisconsin adopted an individual-at-risk restraining order. Such restraining orders can prohibit contact with the elder-at-risk, or provide restrictions on the types of interactions that take place.
If you have questions regarding elder abuse or need assistance, in addition to reporting to your local Adult Protective Service agency, an attorney can also assist you in taking legal action.