We all know what it means to experience particular challenges and vulnerabilities—sometimes based on the phase of life we’re in; a health condition that limits us physically, mentally, or even emotionally; or maybe a job that invites risks and complications. In older age, we may be challenged to trust more people and more social services that help fulfill some of our needs. That extension of trust is itself a vulnerability, and the harm done to older adults under these conditions of trusted service—and in situations where other vulnerabilities are exploited—is considered elder abuse.
With reported cases rising, the International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) named June 15 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) in 2006, and it has been observed every year since. In fact, the entire month of June is recognized as a critical time of advocacy and mobilization, and events take place worldwide throughout World Elder Abuse Awareness Month.
According to the United Nations, “The 2017 WEAAD theme will explore effective means of strengthening protections against financial and material exploitation, including by improving the understanding of this form of elder abuse and discussing ways of ensuring the participation of older adults themselves in ending victimization.” In truth, it will take all of us working together to end all kinds of victimization, marginalization, isolation, and abuse of our aging community members through large-scale public policy measures and by reframing our idea of elder justice.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2017 Calls for Repairs to Society Itself
Pending legislative consideration now is a bill that would amplify the conversation around elder abuse and help to build wide public awareness in our communities. “The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act takes meaningful steps to deter criminals seeking to exploit seniors and hold accountable those who do,” said Senator Chuck Grassley. It would escalate the consequences for perpetrators of diverse forms of elder abuse with special emphasis on elder financial exploitation and abuse.
While these factors are paramount, we can’t forget a critical piece to complete the puzzle and truly embody elder abuse prevention for our present and future citizens in their golden years: We need to eliminate the cracks in our society’s doors and windows that allow perpetrators to slip in and mistreat individuals in the first place.
Why do violators—indeed, why do any of us—believe that older adults’ vulnerabilities are open to exploitation and abuse? There’s absolutely no reason why it must be this way if we were truly committed to the freedom, equality, and fair treatment our Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights propose for all people, regardless of age. We need to reframe our beliefs and realize that our neglect of the resources aging adults need and deserve is what creates and spreads these cracks in the foundation of our society.
A Strong Society Built on Equality Precedes Investigation and Prosecution
In the long term, the focus on elder justice should be primarily on paving the way for equality and fair treatment in the public perspective and through secure avenues to services, such as in-home care, residential care, financial assistance, safe and accessible transportation, full integration within the community, and enlightened support for the growing family need to care for aging loved ones. Domestic and police surveillance, as well as retroactive investigation and judicial attention to crimes, should be a secondary focus.
Progressive justice is more about embracing our true equality as neighbors in a free society and maintaining a foundation where we can all live free from neglect, maltreatment, social isolation, and fear. It is less about punishing those who do wrong by seizing available opportunities that put others in harm’s way.
We don’t need to avenge victims if they are not victims in the first place. And our aging citizens and neighbors are not inherently victims. They are inherently entitled to the same freedoms and quality of treatment as everyone else. It is our responsibility as cooperative community participants to hold our leaders and lawmakers accountable to maintaining our solid foundation of equality without the cracks and structural vulnerabilities that invite victimization of any kind.
Equally so, we must hold ourselves accountable to speak the language that reinforces our inalienable rights to freedom and the pursuit of happiness, rather than the language that pities victims of abuses that have happened or that may happen in the future. Our pity is not the action that will repair our society’s cracks and other weaknesses. Our pity contradicts our proposed indivisible freedoms and perpetuates the beliefs that lead to older adults’ isolation and resulting vulnerability to abuse.
Elder Abuse Laws and Prevention
As Institute on Aging sees it, “When we build communities that work for elderly and the disabled community, we build communities that work for everyone!” We—and our shared responsibility for and enjoyment of society’s structural and civic foundations—are the key to a future without victimization, fear, and hopelessness.
We’re already spearheading some important conversations around end-of-life care, domestic elder abuse, and even older adults’ self-neglect. We’re keeping an eye on legislation that is working to revive our society’s infrastructure in a way that truly honors our equality and connects seniors to the resources that would support their undeniable right to the pursuit of happiness.
The Property Tax Postponement Act, for example, affords seniors a reasonable way to remain in their homes and enjoy the life they’ve chosen and built for themselves. The LGBT Seniors Bill of Rights overtly tackles discrimination and marginalization, which are powerful barriers to otherwise available resources and are abusive in their own right. We will continue to advocate for legislation that would support the progressive evolution of elder justice and active prevention of elder abuse.
What You Can Do This June and Beyond
Maybe we can’t reach absolutely everyone in June 2017, but we’d certainly like to, and you can help! Some of our shared goals include greater awareness of what constitutes elder abuse and how prevalent it really is, more open and progressive communications at home and in public spaces, and comprehensive training for mandated reporters throughout the diverse and growing population of individuals involved in the care of older adults. Here’s a great collection of ideas for ways you can get involved in World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and Month:
- Wear purple! Yes, wear purple in support of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. You can even pull together some simple cuts of purple ribbon looped onto safety pins and pass them out to help others awaken to the important focus of the month. By handing these out, even to people you don’t know, you are furthering the first big step toward elder abuse prevention: awareness. You could tie a wide purple ribbon or a strip of fabric around a tree, lamp post, door handle, or other areas in your home and shared spaces. Share with people what this color means for our collective experience, so they can spread the word too.
- Spearhead an event in your community. Find tips and tools to make your event happen by registering here. Take a look at the agenda for 2017 WEAAD Third Global Summit in Washington, DC, on Thursday, June 15th, to get an idea of the theme and topics up for discussion this year. You could also seek out an event that’s already planned in your area, such as the County of Santa Clara World Elder Abuse Awareness Symposium.
- Speak up! Reach out to your local elected representative. Find their email address or other contact information here by specifying your zip code. Our representatives are tasked with representing our ideas for how our communities could be improved! So, let them know what you think about elder abuse and how you would like to see changes to public policy for elder justice. You can also write an article or submit a letter to the editor for magazines and newspapers, or spread the word through social media with these national postings as inspiration.
- Reshape your perspective. One of the most important things you can do—and you can do this from anywhere at any time—is to revise your own experience of ageism and help others to do the same. This movement absolutely has to do with undercutting the possibilities for abuse that exist through the cracks in our awareness and in our societal structure and resources. It also has to do with the fact that our aging loved ones are an incredibly positive, powerful, and abundant human resource in our communities.
As activist Ashton Applewhite contends, ageism and the resulting oversight are “not only personally devastating, it’s economically stupid, and it’s really problematic ethically in terms of achieving our potential as individuals and a society.” She adds, “And I do think that’s starting to percolate out into the world at large.”
Changing our own habits and assumptions isn’t easy, but the more we become aware of the injustices we are supporting with our backward habits and assumptions, the closer we are to rebuilding a world where we, our families, and our neighbors can all be free to pursue fulfillment and happiness.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Month in 2017 is a great time to get involved with Institute on Aging if you are an older adult, a caregiver, or anyone of any description interested in our collective responsibility to create equality. Get in touch, and we would love to connect you with the programs, services, and resources that are right for you. You can also call (415) 750-4111 with any questions about elder abuse and dependent adult abuse and our dedicated Elder Abuse Prevention Program.