II. Elderly Victims
When elderly people
are victimized, they usually suffer greater physical, mental, and financial
injuries than other age groups. Elderly victims are twice as likely to
suffer serious physical injury and to require hospitalization than any
other age group. Furthermore, the physiological process of aging brings
with it a decreasing ability to heal after injuryboth physically
and mentally. Thus, elderly victims may never fully recover from the trauma
of their victimization. Also, the trauma that elderly victims suffer is
worsened by their financial difficulties. Because many elderly people
live on a low or fixed income, they often cannot afford the professional
services and products that could help them in the aftermath of a crime.
It is understandable why
the elderly are the most fearful of crime. Elderly people, in fact, face
a number of additional worries and fears when victimized. First, they
may doubt their ability to meet the expectations of law enforcement and
worry that officers will think they are incompetent. They may worry that
a family member, upon learning of their victimization, will also think
they are incompetent. Further, they may fear retaliation by the offender
for reporting the crime. Finally, elderly people may experience feelings
of guilt for allowing themselves to be victimized. Depending
on your approach as a first responder, you can do much to restore confidence
in and maintain the dignity of the elderly victims you work with.
Tips for Responding to Elderly Victims
Be attentive to whether victims are tired or not feeling
Allow victims to collect their thoughts before your
Ask victims if they are having any difficulty understanding
you. Be sensitive to the possibility that they may have difficulty
hearing or seeing, but do not assume such impairments. Ask victims
if they have any special needs, such as eyeglasses or hearing aids.
Ask victims whether they would like you to contact
a family member or friend.
Be alert for signs of domestic violence or neglect,
since studies indicate that 10 percent of the elderly are abused by
Give victims time to hear and understand your words
during the interview.
Ask questions one at a time, waiting for a response
before proceeding to the next question. Avoid interrupting victims.
Repeat key words and phrases. Ask open-ended questions
to ensure you are being understood.
Avoid unnecessary pressure. Be patient. Give victims
frequent breaks during your interview.
Protect the dignity of victims by including them in
all decisionmaking conversations taking place in their presence.
For hearing-impaired victims, choose a location free
of distractions, interference, and background noise, and:
Face the victim so your eyes and mouth are clearly
Stand or sit at a distance of no more than 6 feet
and no fewer than 3 feet from the victim.
Begin speaking only after you have the victim's
attention and have established eye contact.
Never speak directly into the victim's ear.
Speak clearly, distinctly, and slightly slower than
usual. Keep your questions and instructions short and simple.
Do not overarticulate your words.
If necessary, talk slightly louder than usual but
do not shout. Extremely loud tones are not transmitted as well
as normal tones by hearing aids.
- Be prepared to repeat your questions and instructions
frequently. Use different words to restate your questions and instructions.
- Provide enhanced lighting if victims are required to
read. Ensure that all print in written materials is both large enough
and dark enough for victims to read.
Provide victims written information that summarizes
the important points you communicated verbally so they can refer to
this information later.
Remember that elderly victims' recollections may surface
slowly. Do not pressure them to recollect events or details; rather,
ask them to contact you if they remember anything later.
In all your comments and interactions with elderly
victims, their families, and other professionals involved in the case,
focus on the goals of restoring confidence to and maintaining the
dignity of the elderly victims you work with.