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Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America
CRIMINAL JUSTICE INTERVENTIONS
Law enforcement officers respond to and investigate allegations of abuse when they are brought to their attention by some other organization, such as adult protective services, or some other individual. In addition, law enforcement officers are often “first responders” and are the first agency representatives to be called to an environment in which mistreatment is occurring, either to investigate an allegation that a law has been violated or to make a “welfare check.” Officers may be the first to realize that an older person is experiencing mistreatment. Officers who recognize the signs of mistreatment and know what community agencies are available to provide assistance can help the victim by bringing in adult protective services, providing referrals to community services, or in other ways. Linking to other agencies is particularly critical when law enforcement officers arrest a caregiver for elder mistreatment and remove him or her from the home; otherwise the victim may be left without needed care.
As discussed by Dyer et al. (this volume), medical examiners and coroners may be called on to determine whether death resulted from or was related to elder mistreatment. Because of their expertise in assessing unnatural injury and death, they may be asked to make similar determinations about suspected victims who are still alive. They may also be the first to discover that abuse has occurred, during an autopsy conducted for some reason other than suspected mistreatment. Medical examiners and coroners can play an important role in fatality review teams that analyze deaths resulting from elder abuse.
A key issue is whether and under what circumstances criminal charges should be filed against alleged perpetrators of mistreatment. Reports from law enforcement, adult protective services, and other practitioners indicate that the number of charges filed in such cases has been increasing. The prosecutorial decisions require complex judgments balancing deterrent and punitive considerations (which focus on the seriousness of the offenders’ conduct, including harm and culpability) with protective considerations (which focus on what measures will best ensure the future safety and wellbeing of the elderly victim).
Prosecutorial response to elder mistreatment is an understudied area that should receive heightened attention by the National Institute of Justice and other funders of criminal justice research.
Victim/witness professionals (sometimes referred to as victim advocates or similar titles) also have a dual role in elder mistreatment intervention. Victim/witness professionals may work in law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices, or community services organizations. The timing of their involvement and their role depends to some extent on the entity for which they work. In general, they assist crime victims by providing sup-