by Ivonne Ortiz, Training and Education Specialist for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was established by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations on June 15, 2006. WEAAD’s goal is to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.
Elder abuse can be defined as a single or repeated act that causes harm or distress to an older person. The abuse can take various forms, such as physical, mental, emotional, sexual, and economic. It may also be the result of negligence, intentional or not.
There are other terms used to define abuse of older adults; one of the most used is abuse in later life. Elder abuse is a broad term that applies to abuse, neglect, and exploitation of an older individual in a trusting relationship with the offender. Elder abuse also includes harm that occurs because an older person is targeted based on age or disability (U.S. DOJ, 2013U.) such as in contractor scams.
Abuse in later life is the segment of elder abuse that focuses specifically on those cases where the abuse is perpetrated by someone in an ongoing relationship (e.g., spouse, partner, family member, or caregiver) with the victim. Sexual abuse and stalking by an offender who is known to the victim or a stranger is also included in the definition. Power and control dynamics, similar to those seen in domestic violence and sexual assault cases involving younger victims, are often present in abuse in later life situations; therefore, older victims may benefit from services provided by domestic and sexual violence programs.
The National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL) developed a series of information sheets to increase awareness of abuse in later life and to provide valuable information and resources to service providers and justice professionals who may work with older victims. These include an overview of the issue, unique challenges in investigating and prosecuting these types of cases, service provider tips on working with older victims, ideas for engaging community partners, and a resource list, among others.
LISTEN TO A DISCUSSION OF THE DYNAMICS
Advocates are encouraged to listen to this 30-minute BlogTalkRadio session, recorded in 2011 for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This segment discusses the “silver tsunami,” the impact of aging on our society, ageism, and how community-based programs can work together to prevent and respond to abuse and neglect in later life. Listeners will hear from experts at the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life, the University of California Irvine Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse & Neglect and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, with support being provided by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), “no one knows precisely how many older Americans are being abused, neglected, or exploited. While evidence accumulated to date suggests that many thousands have been harmed, there are no official national statistics.” Some of the reasons why this is the case include:
• There are multiple definitions of elder abuse. For service providers, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly
what actions or inactions constitute abuse.
• There is no uniform reporting system from state to state, and as a result, the statistics vary widely.
• The is no large-scale national collection of comprehensive data.
“In the absence of a large-scale, nationwide tracking system, studies of prevalence and incidence conducted over the past few years by independent investigators have been crucial in helping us understand the magnitude of the problem” (NCEA, 2005). The best available estimates claim that between 1 and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on who they depended on for care or protection.
The World Report on Ageing and Health outlines a framework for action to foster healthy aging built around the new concept of functional ability..
Globally, the number of cases of elder abuse is expected to increase given the rapidly aging population in many countries, and the possibility that their needs cannot be fully satisfied due to lack of resources. The UN’s World Population Prospects estimates that by 2050, the global population of over 60 years of age will have more than doubled, from 900 million in 2015 to about 2,000 million. Click here to see the full-size animation of the expected global growth.
Elder abuse transcends all ethnicities, but there are several specific issues and distinguishing dynamics that confront different communities of color. The Administration on Aging (AoA) states that disparities in socioeconomics and health are causative factors that undermine the accessibility and effective utilization of health and human services by communities of color. In response to the increasing need for culturally appropriate services, the AoA developed a cultural competency guide titled, Achieving Cultural Competence: A Guide for Providers of Services to Older Americans and Their Families. This guide is a compilation of data as well as best practices for improving services to members of these growing communities.
The National Center on Elder Abuse also recognizes that there is a lack of research and understanding about elder abuse in the African American community that has resulted in limited information about this issue. “General cultural beliefs, views, and norms within [this] community offer both risk and protective factors that influence elder abuse in this population. Socioeconomic variables, such as poverty, institutionalized racism, and structural segregation also place African American elders at risk” (NCEA, 2016).
NCEA’s brief, Mistreatment of African American Elders synthesizes information and research findings related to the mistreatment of African American elders, particularly involving financial exploitation and psychological abuse. Some of the key findings include:
• Elder abuse in the African American community is influenced by risk factors and protective factors that span from the individual level to the community level.
• Compared to their non-African American counterparts, African Americans are disproportionately impacted by financial exploitation and psychological mistreatment.
• African Americans may be more vulnerable to stranger-initiated scams or other financially related deceptions, than non-African Americans. (NCEA, 2016)
In the Latin@ community, there are also specific cultural values and beliefs that discourage victims from reporting abuse. “An elderly victim may not want to bring pena or shame to the family. Instead, the elder will decide not to report their abuse to any ‘outsiders’ and will endure the abuse for the sake of la familia" (WOCN, 2008). There are other cultural considerations and barriers that service providers should be aware of, including:
• Family structure: Some Latin@ families are hierarchical in nature.
• Immigration status: Fear of deportation can be a barrier to accessing services.
• Caretaker roles: Latino children traditionally have the responsibility of caring for their parents, even when some may be financially unable to do so (WOCN, 2008).
The “No Somos Invisibles”/”We are not Invisible” campaign, brings awareness to the discriminatory and violent treatment that many Peruvian older adults are experiencing.
Domestic violence and sexual assault programs are equipped to help victims of abuse, regardless of gender, race, religious beliefs or age. Although there are particular dynamics and barriers faced by older victims, domestic and sexual violence victim advocates can make a difference. Many older victims of abuse may benefit from services offered by programs such as:
• Safety planning,
• individual or group counseling,
• emergency shelter,
• legal advocacy, among others.
These programs can be particularly appropriate for those older victims who do not fit the intake criteria for adult protective services, but who need help in addressing violence and abuse in their lives. Advocates should remember that because of the complexity of some of these cases, collaboration with the aging services network, adult protective services, health care providers, and others is essential.
VAWnet’s special collection Preventing and Responding to Domestic & Sexual Violence in Later Life, focuses specifically on domestic and sexual violence (DV/SV) in later life, highlighting the complexities of older people's DV/SV experiences and emphasizing the importance of collaborative and multi-pronged approaches to addressing DV/SV in later life.
"Throughout the world, abuse and neglect of older persons is largely under-recognized or treated as an unspoken problem. Research indicates that public education campaigns like World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) are vital for informing people in a growing number of countries about elder abuse and active involvement of the media is central to its success" (INPEA, 2011). By supporting this awareness effort, we can begin to shift common perceptions and attitudes that contribute to the stigma that often prevents victims from coming forward and seeking support.
To learn how to get involved, download NCEA’S free tools & tips. You can also join NRCDV’s free WEAAD webinar, Guiding Principles for Working with Older Victims of Abuse, in collaboration with NCALL, which will highlight NCALL’s newly released guiding principles for improving services to elderly victims.
NRCDV WEBINAR: Guiding Principals for Working with Older Victims of Abuse
Date: Friday, June 10, 2016
Time: 3:00 - 4:30pm Eastern / 2:00 - 3:30pm Central / 12:00 - 1:30pm Pacific
• Juanita Davis, Program Manager, National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL)
• Ann Turner, Elder Victim Services and Advocacy, National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL)