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Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America
available on this point, there seems to be a general view that financial abuse of the elderly is perhaps even more likely to go unreported and thus undetected (Hwang, 1996; Wilber and Reynolds, 1996). For example, although it is frequently asserted that bank employees are particularly well positioned to detect financial abuse of the elderly (Coker and Little, 1997), a survey of a small number of banks in New York City found that 43 percent of the banks said they never reported financial abuse of the elderly to APS and 14 percent reported it only sometimes (Heisler and Tewksbury, 1992).
Reporting statutes rely on and are designed to encourage reports of elder abuse. A number of reasons have been given for this underreporting.
One potential source of reports is the victims themselves. As noted, victims are relatively unlikely to report financial abuse (Choi and Mayer, 2000; Kleinschmidt, 1997; National Center on Elder Abuse, 1998; Podnieks, 1992), reportedly more so than for other forms of elder abuse (Podnieks, 1992). Not surprisingly, one set of reasons for underreporting focuses on the characteristics of the victimized elder person. For example, the elder person may be embarrassed at falling victim to financial exploitation and may desire to avoid looking like a person who was too trusting (Coker and Little, 1997; Dessin, 2000; Hwang, 1996; Nerenberg, 2000c; Wilber and Reynolds, 1996). Similarly, elder persons may not want to report the financial abuse for fear it will suggest that they are having problems managing their affairs and provide a rationale for placement in a nursing home or the institution of a guardianship (Hwang, 1996; Nerenberg, 2000c). The elder person may also fear change and prefer the status quo, regardless of its deleterious nature (Dessin, 2000).
Elder persons may hold a view that some level of abuse is normal. For example, they may have a self-identity that they are weak or undeserving or a burden to others and thus may expect to be taken advantage of by others (Dessin, 2000). Alternatively, they may have prior experience living in an abusive environment where they witnessed abuse, were abused, or abused others and thus do not consider it abnormal (Dessin, 2000).
Because victims are often induced to cooperate in their own exploitation, they may believe that they are fully or partially to blame for their victimization (Nerenberg, 2000c). Alternatively, if the financial abuse has an impact on other family members, elder persons may be blamed for or feel responsible for the consequences (Deem, 2000). They may also be concerned that they will become a burden to their family as a result (Hwang, 1996).
The elder person may not realize that abuse occurred or that financial abuse is a crime that can be reported (Coker and Little, 1997; Deem, 2000; Wilber and Reynolds, 1996). Elder persons may also have an impairment that prevents them from reporting the abuse or from recognizing its existence (Dessin, 2000; Gordon, 1986; Smith, 1999).