Elder abuse is common – it is estimated that 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 have experienced it. Further, those who have been abused have a 300% higher risk of death. Elder abuse includes not just physical abuse or neglect, but also emotional and financial abuse. And it is estimated that in two-thirds of cases, the perpetrator is a child or spouse of the victim.
What is Elder Abuse?
The U.S. Administration on Aging defines elder abuse of as the knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver that causes harm or serious risk of harm to a vulnerable older adult. More specifically, New York defines a “vulnerable elderly person” as a person aged 60 years or older who has an affliction associated with advanced age. Further, that affliction must include some demonstrable physical, mental or emotional dysfunction. Finally, the person must be incapable of adequately providing for his/her own health or personal care.
The types of abuse can include any of the following:
- Physical abuse – non-accidental use of force that results in bodily injury, pain or impairment. This includes being slapped, burned, cut, bruised or improperly physically restrained.
- Sexual abuse – non-consensual sexual contact of any kind, including forcing sexual contact or forcing sex with a third party.
- Emotional abuse – willful infliction of mental or emotional anguish by threat, humiliation, intimidation or other abusive conduct. This includes frightening or isolating an adult.
- Active neglect – willful failure by the caregiver to fulfill the care-taking functions and responsibilities assumed by the caregiver. This includes abandonment, or willful deprivation of food, water, heat, clean clothing and bedding, eyeglasses, dentures, or healthcare services.
- Passive neglect – non-willful failure of a caregiver to fulfill care-taking functions and responsibilities assumed by the caregiver.
- Self neglect – an adult’s inability, due to physical and/or mental impairments, to perform tasks essential to caring for oneself. This includes providing essential food, clothing, shelter and medical care; obtaining goods and services necessary to maintain physical health, mental health, emotional well-being and general safety; or managing financial affairs.
- Financial exploitation – improper use of an adult’s funds, property or resources by another individual. This includes fraud, false pretenses, embezzlement, conspiracy, forgery, falsifying records, coerced property transfers or denial of access to assets.
How Does New York Criminalize Elder Abuse?
New York only currently requires mandatory reporters to report their suspicions of elder abuse. This includes health care workers and law enforcement. Otherwise, there is no requirement for other individuals to report alleged elder abuse. The disclosure of abuse to the police, Adult Protective Services (“APS”), or other government agencies is voluntary. However, anyone may report elder abuse or neglect if it is suspected. If the alleged abused happens in a nursing home or similar facility, the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs may also get involved.
Upon a report, APS will review the allegations and conduct an investigation. Similar to Child Protective Services (“CPS”), APS will generally come to a conclusion about whether there has been abuse or neglect. They will generally issue a finding setting forth whether the allegation is founded or un-founded.
There are circumstances where the case is referred to law enforcement for criminal charges. This includes where there is physical injury, serious physical injury, or sexual contact. This can lead to a charge of Endangering the Welfare of a Vulnerable Elderly Person in the Second Degree or in the First Degree, both felonies.
What Resources Are Available for Vulnerable Elderly Persons?
APS is a unit in all local social services districts. An APS worker will investigate cases and make referrals to the appropriate resources for elderly adults. They also develop service plans to remedy physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, or to address unmet, essential needs of adults.
As with any person, if the older adult is in immediate danger, the appropriate course of action is to call 911. For other suspicions of abuse or neglect, contact your local APS office. More information is available from the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator online at https://eldercare.acl.gov/ or by calling 800-677-1116.
- National Council on Aging, “Elder Abuse Facts.” Available at: https://www.ncoa.org/public-policy-action/elder-justice/elder-abuse-facts/ (last accessed Feb. 19, 2020).
- New York State Adult Protective Services. Available at: https://ocfs.ny.gov/main/psa/ (last accessed Feb. 19, 2020).
- Penal Law Article 260. Available at: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/PEN/P3TOA260 (last accessed Feb. 19, 2020).
- Social Services Law § 473(6). Available at: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/SOS/473 (last accessed Feb. 19, 2020).