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Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation

I am saddened to write that there are senior citizens in Rice County that suffer from abuse and exploitation.  Elder abuse and financial exploitation are currently underreported, hidden from the public, and challenging to investigate and prosecute. 

Overall, we are living longer and healthier lives in today’s world.  But as we age, situations and relationships change while we try to remain independent.  It is sometimes difficult to admit, but we and the ones we love become vulnerable.  Every case of elder abuse and financial exploitation that crosses my desk at the Rice County Attorney’s Office presents a unique set of facts.  Although the cases are each unique, there are common themes:   cognitive impairment can prevent a victim from knowing they are being abused or exploited; isolation from others prevents a victim from seeking help, or prevents others from offering help; and caregivers act out of frustration when they feel overwhelmed.  A theme I see with cases of financial exploitation:  access.  Perpetrators are attracted to easy access to a senior’s money and property.  More times than not, acts of elder abuse and financial exploitation are committed by a family member, a caregiver, or a member of the victim’s household.

Here are the five most common types of Elder Abuse:

•     Physical Abuse: using force to threaten or injure an elder. 

•     Emotional Abuse: threatening, isolating, intimidating, or belittling an elder to cause mental anguish, pain, or distress.

•     Sexual Abuse: forcing, threatening or otherwise coercing sexual contact with an elder who is unable to grant consent.

•     Financial Exploitation: committing theft, fraud, misuse or neglect of authority, and using “undue influence” to gain control over an elder’s money or property.

•     Neglect: failing (or refusing) to provide for an elder’s safety, physical, or emotional needs.

Elder abuse and exploitation occur in every community, regardless of social or economic status, race, culture, or gender.  Victims do not always recognize they are being victimized. In some situations, victims fear retaliation by the abuser, or are embarrassed or ashamed so they do not report the abuse or seek help.

The Administration on Aging expects that by 2030, the U.S. population over age 65 will have doubled since the year 2000, with older adults representing 19% of the population.  The National Center of Elder Abuse estimates that up to 2,000,000 older adults are victims of abuse each year in the U.S.  And nearly $3 billion are exploited from vulnerable seniors each year in the U.S. 

A safe and peaceful life is our right at any age.  National experts suggest that a few simple questions can help uncover abuse and exploitation that might otherwise be missed.  Do not be afraid to ask the older adults in your life: “Is anyone taking your money without your permission? Are you afraid of anyone? Is anyone hurting you?” 

If you need help, or you know someone that needs help, call 911 if immediate assistance is required.  If 911 is not necessary, do not hesitate to contact the Adult Services/Vulnerable Adult Protection Unit at Rice County Social Services.  Contacts are:  Ms. Vicki Huber at 507-333-3778 or Ms. Gretchen Chavez at 507-332-5939.  

The Minnesota S.A.F.E. (Stop Abuse and Financial Exploitation) Elders Initiative developed a toolkit for use throughout Minnesota to increase awareness of elder abuse and identify services for victims.  Central to the toolkit is a video titled Elder Victims: Abused, Exploited, Alone.  It is a documentary created in partnership with Twin Cities Public Television.  Free copies of the DVD are available through my office, or at www.safemn.org.  The video can even be watched online at S.A.F.E.’s website.     

Although our State has come a long way in protecting the elders in our community, elder abuse and financial exploitation continue to happen.  Awareness is critical to keeping our Rice County seniors safe.  If you would like additional resources or are interested in the Rice County Attorney’s Office presenting on the issue to your community group, please call me at 507-332-6103.  

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