Investigations of Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation

JULY 3, 1995 VOLUME 3, NUMBER 1

[Last issue we described the duty to report abuse, neglect and exploitation. This second part on the subject discusses what happens when a report is filed.]

Adult Protective Services has a powerful mandate to investigate complaints, and has extraordinary authority to subpoena bank and medical records, to look at the perpetrators financial affairs. APS can even gain access to victims even if they refuse to consent to contact. The name of the referring party, the information gathered and the results of APS evaluations are ordinarily kept private, though they may be revealed in court proceedings undertaken to protect the victim from further abuse or to regain assets.

Despite the power of APS and the strong statutes, abuse, neglect and exploitation are wide-spread; the incidence of problems seems to be growing. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Prosecutors do not place a high priority on elder abuse. With complicated relationships and transactions, they are difficult to prosecute.
  • APS is under funded. Once involved, they may be zealous. Unfortunately, they do not get involved often enough.
  • Perpetrators are often judgment-proof. Individuals who take advantage of the frail elderly tend to have no other sources of income and may have expensive habits to support. Consequently, it is difficult to get private attorneys involved.
  • Elderly victims often make poor witnesses. Prosecutors are concerned that they may not remember specific details, or that they not survive to the date of trial. Many remain susceptible to manipulation by their abusers even after discovery.

More and more often, authorities are seeing repeat abusers. Repeaters are even more clever and dangerous, since they have seen the types of behaviors that result in referrals and the limitations to the powers of government to prevent or remedy abuses.

Abuse, neglect and exploitation are growing problems in our society. There are frustrations and difficulties with the system, but there are powerful tools available. Many who witness abuse, neglect or exploitation or who suspect that it is occurring will have a legal obligation to report their suspicions.

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