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Behind the Doors of Our Communities and Nursing Homes: The Hidden Mistreatment and Abuse of Our Elderly

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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

Behind the Doors of Our Communities and Nursing Homes: The Hidden Mistreatment and Abuse of Our Elderly

Nickie Phillips

Guest Post by Lillian Jeter, expert witness and consultant in elder abuse cases

Behind the doors of our communities throughout America lies a hidden shame as well as daily criminal acts called elder abuse. These crimes are committed against our most vulnerable and dependent elderly: those with dementia and Parkinson’s disease, those unable to walk, those who are bedridden, and those with no one to cry out to in their pain.

Even more horrific are the abuse and neglect which occur in the “sanitized” corridors of the for-profit nursing homes throughout the country. Representing about 3-5% of older persons, this small representation is the most vulnerable and most dependent due to physical, mental, and disabling conditions, where “home” is now one room in a facility with oftentimes little or no visitation.

While not everyone at home with a caregiver or in a facility is being abused, the national data indicates that at least 6% of all older persons are being, or have regularly been, abused in a given year – oftentimes on a daily basis. Since it is known that many acts of abuse go unreported, this percentage is likely much higher.

Acts of abuse fall into five separate major categories: physical, psychological, neglect, sexual, and financial exploitation. In the cases that I have investigated, more often than not, a single victim is subject to several forms of abuse on a regular basis.

Who are the Abusers?

When one mentally conjures up an abuser in their mind, a picture of a stranger who is dirty, smelly, and physically overpowering comes to mind – someone with bad teeth, smelly breath, and greasy hair. This type of portrayal could not be further from the truth of what a real abuser looks like.

Abusers are adult children – both female and male – as well as the victim’s own husband or wife. Abusers are other family members who are now caring for their dependent aunt, uncle or relative. Abusers are close friends who now have power of attorney and/or guardianship or in some cases, professionals who have handled the victim’s finances/legal affairs/ or other professional service for years. Abusers in nursing homes can and often are other residents but also cloak themselves in the air of authority as registered nurses, LPNs, and direct care aides.   One step removed, we find Directors of Nursing, Managers, and Owners failing to report the crime to the police and/or to proper federal and state authorities.

Thus abusers are those with power and control over the dependent older victim – power to give or take away, power to assault or not, power to improperly obtain monies, power to psychologically abuse the victim as well as failure to bathe, allow to go to the toilet, and/or sexually assault or molest.

We all scream out in disgust about children who are molested and abused, but where is the similar cry about our dependent elderly in these same types of conditions and subject to horrific criminal acts? Where is the justice for these victims whose cries of pain are stifled and who have no one to call for help?  Where is the justice for those who are suffering from late stages of dementia, who are easy prey to sexual predators, and who suffer indignities day in and day out without being believed? Where is their justice and protections under the law?

I respect all of your responses and encourage you to join into this discussion.

Lillian Jeter pic

Lillian Jeter is a former law enforcement commander who uncovered a case of elder abuse and neglect in 1985 that changed the nation’s whole perspective on the mistreatment of vulnerable older persons. Lillian serves as a consultant in elder abuse cases internationally and provides expert witness testimony in civil and criminal cases. 

Further Reading:

National Center on Elder Abuse

Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse

University of California, Irvine - School of Medicine

National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

The Neglect of Elder neglect as a White-Collar Crime: Distinguishing Patient Neglect from Physical Abuse and The Criminal Justice System's Response by Payne, Blowers & Jarvis, Justice Quarterly, 2012