Portrait of Elder Abuse and Its Victims Becomes Clearer
While abuse of the elderly has been reported to be a growing problem, comparatively little has been known about the circumstances, victims and perpetrators of such crimes. The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority published in its August 2005 Research Bulletin findings based on state and federal data that fill in some of the details.
According to the report, the typical victim of elder abuse - in both Illinois and nationally - is a white female 80 years of age or older. Family members are most likely to perpetrate the abuse, and females are as likely as males to be the abusers.
The study found that the most common form of abuse in Illinois was financial exploitation (34 percent), followed by emotional abuse (28 percent), passive neglect (22 percent), and physical abuse (10 percent).
In Illinois, the highest percentage of elder abuse victims lived in their own home or apartment (80 percent), were white (75 percent), female (70 percent - the figure is 56 percent nationally), widowed (48 percent), physically impaired (41 percent), and between the ages of 76 and 85 (39 percent), with a mean age of 79 years. Sixty percent of Illinois elder abuse victims did not have any special legal status, such as being under a guardianship or conservatorship.
As for the alleged elder abusers in Illinois, most were white (72 percent), were not likely to be a care giver of the elderly victim (49 percent), were children of the victim (42 percent) and financially dependent on the victim (22 percent). Also, the majority of alleged abusers (80 percent) held no special legal status in relation to the victim, while only one in ten (11 per cent) held a power of attorney over the victim.
Between 1993 and 2003, the number of reported cases of elder abuse in Illinois shot up 85 percent, from 4,142 to 7,672. (During the same period, robbery fell 50 percent and hate crimes dropped 43 percent.) Nevertheless, "Laws governing elder abuse reporting combined with a variety of unique barriers senior citizens often face may camouflage the actual number of elder abuse cases that occur in Illinois," the report states.
To read "The rise in reported elder abuse: A review of state and national data," click on: http://www.icjia.org/public/pdf/Bulletins/Elderabuse2.pdf.
As an elder law attorney who has devoted his career to serving the legal needs of the elderly, the report is both disheartening and hopeful. The report confirms, with cold hard facts, what I have seen and heard in far too many cases -- cases where elders have come to me as victims of financial exploitation or other abuse, or family members have consulted with me about the victimization of their loved ones by neighbors, so-call "friends", care givers or other family members.
On the other hand, the statistic that 80 percent of abusers held no special status in relation to their victims and that only 11 percent of abusers held a power of attorney over their victims, is hopeful. It demonstrates that it is far riskier for an elder to not plan for their possible disability than it is to give someone authority to make decisions for them when they are unable to make or communicate those decisions themselves. The statistic also confirms what I knew from years of experience to be true: those who would abuse elders do not need a power of attorney document to do their dirty work.
At the risk of drawing too much from this statistic, it seems that those who have consulted with a legal advisor are less likely to become the victim of elder abuse. While a power of attorney document need not be drafted by an attorney, many are prepared by attorneys. Consequently, the statistic strongly suggests to me that elders can help protect themselves from becoming victims of elder abuse by talking with an attorney to develop a good plan that will be in place and available to work for their benefit in the event they should ever lose the ability to make appropriate decisions concerning their health or finances.
Richard Habiger is an elder law attorney. You may contact him at 618-549-4529 or Richard@HabigerElderLaw.com.
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