WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. - As we observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October, I would like to share with you an initiative our office has undertaken to address one of the most significant forms of domestic violence – elder abuse. Elder abuse includes financial exploitation, physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse and neglect. Financial exploitation, the most common form of elder abuse, accounts for over $2.5 billion dollars a year in losses to seniors. Physical abuse ranges from assaults resulting in bruising to serious bone fractures and in the most extreme cases, death. Sexual abuse may also occur. Neglect can include a caregiver failing to provide an elderly person with the most basic needs, such as medication, personal hygiene or meals. In response to the growing problem of elder abuse, my office, along with our partners in government and the community, has created a new multi-disciplinary team to address these issues.
The Elder Abuse Bureau of the District Attorney’s Office prosecutes crimes where a victim is 60 years of age or older and the perpetrator is either a family member or caretaker, or the victim has been targeted due to his or her age. In 2011, there were 198 elder abuse cases and investigations in Westchester County, compared to 150 cases in 2010. The greatest number of cases involved financial abuse, while others were related to physical or sexual abuse. According to the 2010 Census, 18 percent of our county population is 62 years of age and over, nearly 1 in 5 people. As our population continues to age, the potential for elder abuse cases increases and our efforts will be focused on an effective response.
With increasing numbers and severity of elder abuse cases, my office initiated a new partnership with the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale. Leveraging on our established relationships with the Department of Social Services and the New York State Attorney General’s Office, we have formed a multi-disciplinary team here in Westchester that includes Adult Protective Services, medical and mental health professionals, elder law attorneys and local police departments. During monthly meetings, the team discusses complex cases, with the goal of providing better services to seniors, increasing the safety of elder abuse victims and enhancing the prosecution of our cases. Our team coordinator, an aging expert from the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging and Longevity, ensures that appropriate cases are brought to the team and that current cases are followed-up on properly.
Prosecuting elder abuse cases and protecting victims of elder abuse can be very complicated. Part of the complex nature of these cases involves the fear these vulnerable victims often have of coming forward, as many older individuals depend upon the abusive caretaker for assistance. Living alone, a victim of elder abuse may be isolated and unable to call authorities for help. In other instances, the abuser may be an adult child whom a parent seeks to protect. Our elder abuse unit includes a full-time prosecutor and investigator. Our model is efficient and it is effective, working with our partners in other government agencies to provide comprehensive services and safety for victims and to hold offenders accountable. I will be speaking on this topic at the 12th annual Police Interactive Training Conference on Oct. 17, 2012, working with our local police departments in our continuing effort to enhance and serve the public safety needs of the people of Westchester County.
Always remember to call 911 for immediate assistance. If there is a suspicion or concern for the welfare of an older person in your family or your community, reach out to the District Attorney’s Elder Abuse Bureau at 914-995-3000.