MAY 15, 2000 VOLUME 7, NUMBER 46
Physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse of elderly and vulnerable adults is a growing problem not only in Arizona, but around the world. Such abuse is also a crime. Even the failure to report elder abuse may be a crime in some circumstances.
Arizona law particularly protects “vulnerable” adults. An adult is deemed vulnerable when he (or she) “is unable to protect himself from abuse, neglect or exploitation by others because of a physical or mental impairment.” [Arizona Revised Statutes section 46-451(A)(10)]
Adult Protective Services, the Arizona state agency charged with responding to allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation, reports that actual abuse appears to be less common than either neglect (including “self-neglect”) or financial exploitation. Still, the incidence of abuse is high and growing.
Who is abusing seniors? The classic profile of an abuser, according to experts, includes the following elements:
|•||The abuser is usually a son of the victim. Abuse by strangers is relatively rare, and when it does occur is almost always committed by a caregiver.|
|•||The abuser is also usually unemployed and financially dependent on the victim. In fact, the most common term used to describe the individuals who become abusers is “lazy.”|
|•||In addition, the abuser frequently has a drug and/or alcohol problem, and may also be addicted to gambling.
Some professionals are required by Arizona law to report even suspicions about abuse, neglect and exploitation. Physicians, psychologists, dentists, social workers and police officers are all required to file reports whenever they have a “reasonable basis” to believe that abuse, neglect or exploitation has occurred. Failure to make a report is itself a misdemeanor, and could lead to loss of licensure or other penalties.
Reports of abuse (like reports of neglect and exploitation) can be filed with Adult Protective Services or the local police or sheriff’s department. The law requires those reports to be filed immediately by telephone or in person, and the initial report must be followed up with a written report within two working days.
In order to make reporting abuse, neglect and exploitation simpler Adult Protective Services has established a statewide toll-free telephone number. Initial telephone reports can be filed by calling APS at 1-877-767-2385. Those with hearing impairments can call a special toll-free number at 1-877-815-8390.
Arizona is not the only state with a toll-free, centralized reporting number for elder abuse. Contact information for other states can be located at the National Center on Elder Abuse website at www.gwjapan.com/NCEA/report/index.html.
Abuse is often difficult to detect. Symptoms of an abusive relationship often (but not always) include dependence on the abuser, “hovering” by the abuser, isolation of the victim from friends and family, recent changes in behavior and/or spending patterns, and general anxiety on the part of the victim.