President Trump signed bipartisan legislation Oct. 18 that supports efforts to better understand, prevent and combat elder abuse.
P.L. 115-69 (S. 178), the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act of 2017, which was passed by the Senate Aug. 1 and cleared for the president by the House Oct. 3, includes goals supported by the ABA to enhance the federal government’s response to elder abuse and financial exploitation of seniors.
The legislation, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), improves the protection of seniors by:
●increasing data collection and information sharing of abuse and fraud cases;
●increasing training of federal prosecutors and investigators;
●establishing an elder justice coordinator position in both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice; and
●increasing penalties for criminals who target seniors.
“Exploiting and defrauding seniors is cowardly, and these crimes should be addressed as the reprehensible acts they are,” Grassley said after the bill passed. He added that the legislation “sends a clear signal from Congress that combating elder abuse and exploitation should be top priority for law enforcement.”
“Elder abuse is a problem that respects no boundaries,” ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman conveyed to Congress in a March 1 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee during consideration of the legislation. “The problem is not defined by socioeconomic, racial or ethnic status, and it occurs with alarming frequency in every state,” he said.
Susman emphasized that elder abuse takes many forms – physical abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, sexual abuse, and emotional or psychological abuse – and it is estimated that only one in 14 cases of abuse is reported to authorities. Despite the underreporting of cases, the National Council on Aging reports that approximately one in 10 Americans 60 years of age or older has experienced some form of abuse, and some estimates show that as many as five million seniors are abused each year.
Also widely underreported is financial exploitation of the elderly, with losses to older Americans at more than $2.9 billion a year along with additional billions of dollars in costs to businesses, families and government programs.
Recent studies show that nearly half of those with dementia experience abuse or neglect and that interpersonal violence occurs at disproportionately higher rates among adults with disabilities. In addition, older Americans who have been victims of abuse have a 300 percent higher mortality rate than those who have not.