The abuse of seniors is a national calamity that is only recently receiving the attention from law enforcement that it deserves. One in ten seniors is abused, often by a family member or caretaker. Traditionally the subject has been taboo, recognized as a problem but often swept under the rug by those who have the power to make a difference. Now, as a result of a number of lawsuits and the visibility of media reports, things are changing.
Elder Abuse In Pennsylvania As Defined By Domestic Violence Laws
The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) was established in 1984 to provide victims of domestic abuse with counseling services and emergency shelter. Elder victims have traditionally been included in this act when related by blood, legally related at one point (whether through marriage or another form) or if they are “lawfully” residing with the suspect.
The state of Pennsylvania has one of the highest senior populations in the country, a fact that necessitates the need for swift and thorough action whenever senior abuse is suspected. The Senior Exploitation Unit is a Delaware County organization that was created in 2003 to investigate claims of crimes against Pennsylvania residents over the age of sixty.
The Pennsylvania Coalition against Domestic Violence (PCADV) recognizes the preponderance of senior abuse, estimating that one million seniors per year are abused in their own homes. As with other victims of domestic violence, senior victims often refuse to report violence due to fear of retaliation or disbelief. But unlike younger victims, seniors also report that they fear if they report domestic violence or pursue a criminal or legal case against someone they live with they will lose the only form of support they have and will have to move to a nursing home or other institution.
Protection Orders In Pennsylvania
Seniors in Pennsylvania who experience domestic violence can file the paperwork for a protective order from their abuser, which provides them with a legal layer of protection from a domestic partner. To file a Protection from Abuse Order, seniors follow the same procedure that younger victims follow, with the added benefit that they can contact their local center of aging for assistance in filling out paperwork and ensuring that the order is delivered successfully. In general, seniors cannot file a protective order against a stranger or roommate unless they have had intimate relations with the person.
Domestic And Elder Abuse
There is a fine line between domestic and elder abuse, and often this line is related to intimacy. Domestic abuse occurs between two people who are intimately related in some way: romantic partners, those with a child in common, blood relatives or household members. In this definition, members of the same household are those who were married at one time, parents/children, and those who were formally intimate. Abuse can be physical or sexual in nature. In general, domestic violence differs from elder abuse in that it does not include negligence or psychological abuse. However, being held a prisoner in your own home does constitute domestic abuse even if there is no accompanying physical mistreatment.
Seniors deserve the same access to victim services as those who are younger and might experience domestic violence. Since domestic abuse is a relational term defined by the level of intimacy between the victim and perpetrator and not by the act of violence committed, domestic violence laws do cover elderly abuse cases when appropriate. For example, a senior who is being abused by her child has a right to pursue an order of protection from them and can also file criminal charges for the abusive treatment.
Combating Violence In The Elderly Population
Domestic violence within the elderly population is often overlooked by law enforcement due to a lack of certainty over who should handle the problem. Elderly women are especially vulnerable to abuse that falls under domestic violence but is reported as elderly abuse because of the victim’s age. While this is slowly changing because of the collaboration between the Department of Aging and local Domestic Violence advocates, many cases still fall through the cracks.
Of course, domestic violence in the senior demographic can be addressed with diligent attention. Doing so allows the elderly who are placed in an unsafe environment to have access to options that will help them escape the situation, without losing the ability to stay at home and receive care.