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Sad Elderly Man

Elder Abuse Violations Continue to Lack Enforcement

One matter that regularly frustrates me is the lack of enforcement of consequences for those who commit elder abuse. By some estimates, elder abuse may affect as much as 10% of the population older than 60, and many cases go unreported.

Recently, an article from WalletHub caught my attention. It ranks the 50 U.S. states and District of Columbia in terms of which states have the best elder abuse protections. Sadly, my home state of Georgia ranks 40th out of 51. The researchers also note that Georgia is among the states that spend the least toward preventing elder abuse and is among those with the poorest quality of nursing homes.

My observation is that Georgia does have solid laws regarding elder abuse in place, but we seem to be unable to enforce them. Some of the challenges include:

  • Lack of resources. Many times, there aren’t enough police officers available to fully investigate elder abuse allegations.
  • Lack of understanding and training. Frequently, law enforcement offices do not fully understand the complex web of laws and how to enforce the protections that are in place.
  • Hesitancy to fully prosecute the offenders. In my experience, law enforcement, and even some judicial officers, treat elder abuse cases as civil, not criminal, matters. In some counties, if an elderly person dies, law enforcement will close matters involving the financial exploitation of that person. We observed a case in which an elderly person was taken across county lines to transfer funds to a relative. While that activity constitutes human trafficking, law enforcement closed the matter without referring it to the district attorney. In another case, a judge would not issue a criminal warrant for arrest when one relative who took items from an aging relative while that aging relative was in the hospital. Apparently, the judge determined this was a civil, not criminal, dispute.

As I continue to receive calls for assistance on financial exploitation, my hope is to see better training for law enforcement and other individuals tasked to protect vulnerable populations and greater enforcement of these laws.