Justice for All: Ending Elder Abuse, Neglect and Financial Exploitation
Hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging
Statement of Esta Soler, President and Founder,
Family Violence Prevention Fund
Thank you for the opportunity to submit this statement for the record about the pervasive and very serious problem of elder abuse. I want to begin by thanking Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Bob Corker (R-TN) for convening an important and much-needed hearing, which helped shine a spotlight on a problem that too often goes unaddressed.
I am Esta Soler, president and founder of the Family Violence Prevention Fund. For more than 30 years, we have worked to end violence in the United States and around the world, promoting programs, policies and public education that promotes prevention and helps victims.
In that time, we have seen significant progress. Domestic, dating and sexual violence have come out of the shadows. We’ve improved the law enforcement, judicial and health care responses, provided services to countless survivors, educated millions of people, and begun to change social norms. That hard work has resulted in significant declines in the incidence of these crimes. We have a great deal of work still to do, but we have proven that progress is possible. Now we need to build on it.
One of the areas we need to focus on going forward is elder abuse. The progress we’ve made in other areas is not as evident here. Domestic violence is a problem across the lifespan and, as a nation, we have not paid enough attention to the oldest victims. They suffer physical, sexual, psychological and financial abuse, incest, and other forms of violence at a time when disability, dementia and other factors may make it difficult or impossible for them to protect themselves.
We need to pay attention. I commend the witnesses who shared powerful personal stories, and compelling data, at this hearing. You helped bring attention to the scourge of elder abuse.
We believe that part of the solution lies in training judges and law enforcement personnel to better recognize and respond to elder abuse. They are in a unique position to help. The Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) has been training judges and prosecutors to recognize and understand the dynamics of domestic and sexual violence for more than a decade. In recent years, with the senior population growing so rapidly, we have turned our attention to training judges and others to recognize and respond better to elder abuse as well.
That work is part of the National Judicial Institute on Domestic Violence, a partnership of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the Family Violence Prevention Fund. We offer a well-tested, highly interactive workshop that helps both new and experienced state court judges and judicial officers improve their skills and ability to respond to cases involving violence against the elderly.
The results are truly promising. After participating in our program, judges are better able to define elder abuse and identify common abuse tactics, excuses and myths related to perpetrators’ abuse of elders. They can discuss the range of barriers that older people might encounter in court and enhance physical, legal, and attitudinal accessibility for older adult victims.
Judges who have been trained in this way are better prepared to rule on evidentiary and legal challenges that perpetuate discrimination against, or jeopardize the safety of, aging adults who are experiencing abuse. They are better able to craft orders that preserve the dignity of elders and enhance their safety, and hold perpetrators accountable. In short, they are better able to stop elder abuse and protect victims.
More information on the program is available at http://www.endabuse.org/section/programs/judicial/_ejselder.
As we continue to offer these workshops, word of mouth helps build interest and we are seeing more and more judges and law enforcement officers take an interest in elder abuse. This is a good sign that this community recognizes the magnitude of the problem and is ready to address it. Judges are leaders who can mobilize others in their communities to enhance justice and safety for older victims.
As I noted, the Family Violence Prevention Fund has more than 30 years of experience working to stop domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. We want to use that expertise to help stop elder abuse. A coordinated community response can make an enormous difference, and judges are well-positioned to catalyze that kind of coordinated response.
I urge the Committee, and the full Congress, to continue focusing on this issue and to make stopping elder abuse – and violence and abuse of all kinds – a higher priority. You can do that by supporting the Elder Abuse Program in the Violence Against Women Act, so that seniors will be able to rely on a court system that is staffed by judges and judicial officers who can more effectively identify indicators of elder abuse and issue rulings and orders that will preserve and promote safety, justice and dignity for all its victims.