Elder abuse goes widely unreported

Ron Craig, Crime Prevention/Community Policing Officer

        June is Elder Abuse Prevention month, a time to raise awareness about this important topic.
        Elder abuse can take many forms, but we will discuss the major types—financial, emotional physical, sexual and neglect.
        Most people think of neglect when they think of elder abuse. Although all types of elder abuse are serious, neglect can lead to other types of abuse, including emotional and physical.
        Many seniors who experience neglect become withdrawn from everyday activities and can slip into depression. It may take friends and relatives a while to see the signs and symptoms of neglect.
        Sometimes, it is a family member or close friend who may be responsible for neglect. It may start out as something obscure but can grow into a serious matter in a relatively short period of time.
        Neglect often involves the withholding of food and/or medical care. It can spiral out of control quickly with a noticeable loss of weight if food is being withheld. The victim may make excuses for this loss of weight to cover up the neglect.
        Physical abuse can take many forms. Those perpetuating physical abuse may be careful not to leave marks or bruises in places easily seen by others.
        Unexplainable bruises may be passed off as the victim being clumsy. Abuse may be the real reason behind the excuse of frequent falls and other mishaps. The victim may even have bone fractures that go untreated. The abuser may keep the victim from routine visits to the doctor to keep others from seeing the signs of the abuse.
        Emotional abuse includes keeping the victim isolated from others. It may be accompanied with other types of abuse as part of a continued pattern. It has been more difficult to recognize emotional abuse the past couple of years due the COVID pandemic, which has led to more isolation for seniors, both in their homes and in care facilities.
        Emotional abuse can involve the deliberate withholding of contact between the victim and the abuser. Because the abuser may be the person the victim has the most contact with, the effects may be devastating to the victim.
        Sexual abuse is closely linked to physical abuse because it also involves physical contact with the victim. Sexual abuse may be the result of the victim’s inability to fight off the aggressor. Like victims of sexual assault who are younger, the elderly victims may be traumatized by this illegal sexual contact.
        Sexual abuse, like other types of elder abuse, may be difficult for the victim to talk about, leading to underreporting of these crimes.
        Financial elder abuse involves the withholding or theft of money and/or property belonging to the victim. This type of abuse is thought to be one of the most difficult to spot. It may not become clear financial abuse has taken place until the victim has passed away and financial records are open to scrutiny.
        The abuser may take assets in the form of personal property from the victim for the abuser’s own use or the abuser may sell the items to convert them to cash the abuser may keep.
        It is important to report any type of abuse to the authorities. Ohio law now considers most types of elder abuse to be felony offenses. In fact, medical professionals are required to report suspected elder abuse.
        This article is a public service from the Community Policing/Crime Prevention Division of the Lake Township Police Department. Township residents may obtain further information on crime prevention and public safety topics by contacting Ron Craig, crime prevention specialist/community policing officer, at 419-481-6354.


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