Being a victim of crime, especially a crime of a violent nature, one suddenly finds his or her self in a state of personal emergency that requires finely developed coping mechanisms in order to rationalize the situation. In addition to the need of a sound mind, a sound body is required in order to defend one’s self from harm in all but the most benign cases (Roberts & Yeager, 2009). The elderly population is characterized as having the predisposition of declining mental acuity as well as declining health and increasing frailty, as many of the elderly have disabilities related to their advanced development (Heisler, 2007). It could be stated that the elderly make for the perfect victim. However valid this statement may or may not be, it stands to reason that the elderly are at risk for being taken advantage of, at risk of injury from others, and at risk for both emotional and physical decline due to unwarranted stress (Heisler, 2007).
Elder abuse, which includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, financial and material exploitation, neglect, and abandonment, “is being recognized as a … complex societal problem” (Heisler, 2007, p. 161). Heisler (2007) states that “in physical abuse cases, men are usually the abusers” (p. 169), yet it stated that men only account for 53% of the abuse, which is much closer to ‘half’ than ‘usually’, so it seems that both men and women are just as likely to abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse (as cited in Heisler, 2007) also describes “self-neglect” as a type of abuse; however, this appears to fall under neglect and abandonment. Elder self-neglect should not be treated as a crime but should be addressed with the elder’s emotional and psychological well-being in mind.
The elderly are a vulnerable population due to their complex and specific needs and tend not to report abuse for fear of losing their support structure and further undermining their independence. According to Acierno et al. (2010), Podnieks (as cited in Heisler, 2007) and Wolf (as cited in Heisler, 2007), the one-year prevalence of elder abuse appears to fall between 4-5.6%, though the exact numbers have been difficult to quantify. It is this difficulty in identifying the abuse accurately that creates difficulty in responding to the crime. It is for this reason that every state and Washington, D.C., has enacted legislation that mandates the reporting of suspected elderly abuse by certain authorities (e.g. doctors, nurses, police, EMS, social workers, et al.).
In order to further develop coordinated community responses to elderly abuse, we must further understand the prevalence and intricacies of the abuse and its particular effects on the victims. It is imperative to bolster social support with prevention initiatives in order to address the prevalence of elder abuse in all of its forms.
Heisler, C. J. (2007). Elder abuse. In R. C. Davis, A. J. Lurigio, & S. Herman (Eds.), Victims of crime (3rd ed.; pp. 161-188). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Roberts, A. R. & Yeager, K. R. (2009). Pocket guide to crisis intervention. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.