Students and faculty gathered in the Titan Student Union at Cal State Fullerton Saturday to attend the 13th annual Violence Prevention Conference that reported on trends in elder abuse.
This year’s conference, titled Voices of the Victims: Abuse Across the Lifespan, featured a host of speakers that included Orange County Superior Court Judge Nancy Wieben Stock, community educator Robert Diaz, and authors Julia Chadwell and Alyce La Violette, who have both written about domestic violence.
Also included this year was a panel on elder abuse, which included experts Cristi Dugger of Human Options, Joyce Riley from Orange County Adult Protective Services, Erin Tinoco of the Anaheim City Attorney’s Department and detective Cherie Hill of the Anaheim Police Department.
The panel pointed out that although elder abuse may not be as well known of an issue as other types of domestic abuse, it is still very prevalent.
“This is a huge problem. They just did a study and they found that every year, one in ten seniors about 65 or older are victims of abuse,” Dugger said.
Dugger also said that in cases of people with dementia, the study showed that one in every two suffered abuse.
It was mentioned that a majority of elder abuse comes from within the family, meaning that more batterers are typically members of the victim’s family, as opposed to strangers, such as staff members at a nursing facility.
These statistics were particularly surprising to members of the audience, including Sandra Martinez, 23, a human services major.
“I learned a lot,” said Martinez. “Especially about elder abuse, because I didn’t really know how big of a problem it really is.”
Martinez said she was shocked to learn that the majority of elder abuse comes from family members.
There are several types of domestic abuse, all of which can also arise in elder abuse cases. Physical abuse is the first to come to mind for many people, but there can also be emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.
Furthermore, in cases involving seniors, a previously abusive relationship can take on new forms as the victim and the batterer both age.
One example brought up during the conference was of an aging man who would abuse his spouse. His wife aged more gracefully than he did, and he was no longer able to chase after her to physically abuse her. As such, hitting her eventually turned into throwing things at her. As his health degraded even further, he began to rely on verbal abuse, which could hurt her so long as she was within earshot.
Particularly bad cases of elder abuse can involve multiple kinds of abuse.
One example given was of a woman who took over as a “caretaker” for her aging grandfather. She completely neglected her grandfather to the point that he had a bedsore-born hole in his bottom that went to the bone. Meanwhile, she ran off with around $300,000 of her grandfather’s money and partied until he died.
“She went and partied, she got new teeth, she got a new house and a few cruises. It was very disturbing to me,” Hill said.
Despite cases like this happening, all the experts at the panel acknowledged that educating people on such a subject is difficult. Even jurors at trials for cases involving elder abuse have issued not-guilty verdicts stemming purely from a sort of “ageism,” or from a perception that the case is somehow less serious because it involves seniors.