Posts Tagged ‘National Center on Elder Abuse’

Professionals Must Report Abuse Of Vulnerable Adults

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

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.

Voting Rights and Guardianship


Court in Phoenix challenging Arizona’s voting laws. The challenged provisions prevent people for whom guardians have been appointed from voting in state, local or federal elections.

Arizona’s Constitution provides, in Article VII, Section 2, that “[n]o person under guardianship, non compos mentis, or insane, shall be qualified to vote at any election….” Statutes adopted to implement that provision require the Superior Court Clerk to notify the County Recorder whenever a person has been “declared insane” or had a “guardian of the person and estate” appointed. Perhaps because of the archaic language of the statute, few (if any)of Arizona’s counties comply with this requirement.

Carl Pierson, a 37-year-old Globe resident, is the plaintiff in the Center’s lawsuit. Mr. Pierson is mildly retarded, and the Gila County Public Fiduciary has been appointed as his guardian. Although he registered to vote last May, his name was removed from the voter lists this month.

The lawsuit claims that denial of the right to vote to all wards in guardianship proceedings violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees “equal protection” of the law to all citizens. The suit also alleges that the Arizona provisions violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was adopted by Congress last year, and the Voting Rights Act.

If the lawsuit is successful, the result would probably be that guardianship wards will be permitted to vote unless someone specifically challenges their capacity to understand the voting process. Estimates indicate that over 3,000 Arizona residents are under guardianship or conservatorship.

Federal Study of Abuse

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced that it will spend a million dollars on a three-year investigation of abuse, neglect and exploitation of older Americans. Funds will come from the Administration on Aging and the Administration for Children and Families; the study will be conducted by the National Center on Elder Abuse in Washington.

Fernando Torres-Gil, assistant secretary for aging of the Department, announced the study last week. He described previous studies which indicate that as many as 1.5 million senior Americans (approximately one in 20) may be victims of abuse, and speculated that the actual numbers may be much higher.

Reasons for suspected under-reporting of abuse include the shame frequently felt by victims, as well as the fact that police and prosecutors are ill-equipped to work with the elderly. Torres-Gil described elder abuse as “the hidden shame of the American family.”


A larger question posed by Carl Pierson’s case may go unanswered. If Mr. Pierson is able to exercise the discretion involved in voting (and all indications are that he is), why does he have a guardian? If a guardian has been appointed because Division of Developmental Disabilities rules require a guardianship proceeding as a condition of providing services, shouldn’t that law be challenged first?

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