OVC ArchiveOVC
This file is provided for reference purposes only. It was current when produced, but is no longer maintained and may now be outdated. Please select www.ovc.gov to access current information.

horizontal line break

Chapter 14 Victimization of the Elderly (Supplement)

Statistical Overview

  • According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, almost 121,000 seniors age 65 and over experienced a violent victimization in 2000 (Rennison 2001).

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported 574 murders of elders in 2000 (FBI 2001).

Recent Legislation

Older adults in the United States are increasingly the targets of financial crime. In recognition of the need for more effective measures to reduce their vulnerability, Congress enacted the Protecting Seniors from Fraud Act. The law authorizes appropriations from 2001 through 2005 to state Triad programs through the National Association of Triads. It calls upon the Comptroller General to evaluate the Triads across the nation prior to the end of the five-year program and to submit to Congress a report on their effectiveness that identifies impediments and recommends improvements (P.L. 106-534).

In addition, the law calls upon the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide means in each state to publicly disseminate information to educate older people and to raise their awareness about fraudulent telemarketing and sweepstakes so that they understand:

  • The prevalence of fraudulent schemes.

  • How fraudulent schemes work.

  • How to protect themselves.

  • How to report suspected attempts and/or acts of fraud.

  • Their consumer protection rights under federal law (Ibid.).

Furthermore, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will conduct a study that analyzes the nature, type, and extent of financial crimes perpetrated against seniors; the risk factors associated with older victims; the criminal justice response to crimes against seniors; the effectiveness of awards and other means by which older victims can seek reimbursement after fraud has been established; and other effective ways to prevent the commission of fraud against seniors (Ibid.).

Finally, the bill requires that statistics relating to crimes that target seniors, crime risk factors for seniors, and characteristics of seniors who are victimized be included in the National Crime Victimization Survey (Ibid.).

Domestic Violence Outreach To the Elderly

(The following section summarizes Results from an Elder Abuse Prevention Experiment in New York City by Robert C. Davis and Juanjo Medina-Ariza, published by the National Institute of Justice, September 2001.)

Educational outreach to older people on their turf—retirement communities, social clubs, and assisted living facilities—has been an effective means of reducing and preventing victimization. Outreach and support are more complicated initiatives when older adults live with family members and suffer abuse. Coordinated community response (composed of police, victim services, and adult protective services) has become an effective tool to prevent further violence. However, a report from the National Institute of Justice poses questions about the wisdom of direct intervention in the home when the older victim is unable, unwilling, or lacks the resources to reside elsewhere.

In Results from an Elder Abuse Prevention Experiment in New York City, Davis and Medina-Ariza describe a twelve-month intervention experiment based on a model developed for interventions for spousal abuse. The Domestic Violence Prevention Project (DVPP) paired police officers with domestic violence counselors to respond to incidents of family violence in New York City housing projects. Thirty out of a group of sixty housing projects were randomly selected to be targeted for public education on elder abuse:

  • Community meetings to educate the population about elder abuse were set up.

  • Posters were placed in public areas and leaflets that discussed definitions of abuse, the legal rights of victims, and assistance available from the police and social services were passed out to all older residents.

DVPP also randomly selected half of the households in the sixty housing projects that had reported elder abuse to the police and made house visits. Counselors met older victims, discussed legal options and police procedures, and set up links to social services in case of further abuse. Victims were encouraged to report to the police if there were more incidents of abuse. Police also spoke with abusers when possible and explained that they would show zero tolerance for further abusive behavior. To gauge the effect of the experiment, police records were checked for new incidents in the projects and victims were interviewed six to twelve months following the incident that had triggered the intervention.

Application of the DVPP model in housing projects to address spousal abuse had typically resulted in more reporting when there was a family violence incident, implying greater victim willingness to report. The follow-up home visits by research interviewers found that there had not been an increase in violence in the families who had received the direct intervention and the public education program. In other words, the spousal abusers were not incited to commit further violence after the intervention.

However, following the elder abuse intervention, researchers found that new incidents of abuse were more frequent among households that had received both forms of intervention. Like the spousal abuse experiment, significantly more calls to report abuse were made to the police. On follow-up home visits, however, the research interviewers also found a significant increase in reports of physical abuse, indicating that the intervention did not suppress abuse and may have accelerated it.

Davis and Medina-Ariza offer three explanations for this surprising outcome:

  • Persons who received the education and the intervention were more sensitized to abuse, but the actual abuse did not increase. They suggest that if the sensitization hypothesis were true, the older persons would more likely be dealing with psychological abuse: the increased sensitivity would detect primarily an increased measure of psychological abuse.

  • Persons who received the education and intervention were more willing to report abuse to the police and research interviewers. However, research interviewers found no indication that these reporting victims had greater confidence in the police or more satisfaction in the process.

  • Persons who received the education and intervention were more vulnerable to abuse. Davis and Medina-Ariza cite evidence that convicted batterers are often angrier than batterers whose cases have been dropped, implying that abusers confronted by the DVPP staff may have been angered and incited to abuse again. However, they place greater emphasis on the dependent relationship of the abused persons since older people depend emotionally, psychologically, financially, and physically on the families with whom they live. Two-thirds of the abusers in the DVPP sample were the victims' children and grandchildren.

Notwithstanding the possibilities presented here, Davis and Medina-Ariza focus on the need for serious inquiry into the cause and effect of the DVPP experiment. Under what circumstance do these combined interventions bring about greater abuse? Does the ultimate resolution of a violent relationship require more than twelve months and should the experiments be extended to track changes over a longer period? Should the older persons's potential for independence from the abuser become a control variable to determine whether interventions tend to have harmful consequences for older people who cannot escape their living circumstances? Certainly the best way to understand the paradoxical results of the experiment would be to have better access to the thoughts and feelings of both the older victims and their abusers. Until some light has been shed on this situation, victim service providers should be extremely attentive to the elder abuse victims whom they serve to determine if the interventions that they provide are indirectly antagonizing the abusers to act violently, and if so what actions should be taken to protect the victim.

Previous Contents Next

Chapter 14 Victimization of the Elderly June 2002
Archive iconThe information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.