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Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America
A second set of reasons traces underreporting to the nature of the interaction between the victim and the perpetrator of financial abuse. A widely cited reason is the reliance of the victim on the perpetrator for support and care, a notion often planted and nurtured by the perpetrator, and a fear of losing this support and care (Dessin, 2000; Smith, 1999). The elder person may also fear the perpetrator, including a fear of retaliation that is heightened the more abusive the relationship is (Deem, 2000; Gordon, 1986; Hwang, 1996; Smith, 1999). The elder person may be reluctant to turn in a family member or someone with whom they feel a close bond (Coker and Little, 1997; Dessin, 2000; Nerenberg, 2000c; Wilber and Reynolds, 1996). Even if abusive, there may be a close personal relationship between the victim and the perpetrator (Smith, 1999). The victim may be unwilling to report financial abuse because it tends to be the result of a relationship gone wrong or a betrayal of trust rather than outright theft (Coker and Little, 1997; Wilber and Reynolds, 1996). Also, the elder person may feel a sense of responsibility for the perpetrator’s actions, particularly in the case of a family member (Dessin, 2000).
A third set of explanations for underreporting identifies barriers associated with the system designed to receive and respond to such reports. For example, the elder person may be unaware of where to turn for help and how to initiate a report (Deem, 2000; Dessin, 2000). Similarly, the elder person may lack access to these channels, as when a perpetrator prevents the victim from leaving a residence or using a telephone (Dessin, 2000). It is also widely considered difficult for outsiders to detect financial abuse and thus to discern a need for such a report (Choi et al., 1999; National Center on Elder Abuse, 1998). Abuse may be relatively invisible to outsiders, particularly as it may unfold slowly, involve elders who are socially isolated, and not leave immediate, visible signs (Choi et al., 1999; Gordon, 1986).
As discussed above, an alternative source of such reports are various professional groups. However, the members of these groups have also been slow to report financial abuse of the elderly (Hwang, 1996). A number of explanations for this reluctance have been provided. For example, detecting financial abuse can be difficult, particularly when interactions are brief or where the individual does not have an expertise in financial affairs. Moreover, professionals may resist reporting because of a fear of being incorrect, because definitions are vague and ambiguous, or because of a fear of liability for filing incorrect reports (Lachs and Pillemer, 1995; Marshall et al., 2000; Sugg and Inui, 1992). Also, they may be unfamiliar with the reporting system and the implications and impact of filing reports (Lachs and Pillemer, 1995). Outsiders may not report financial abuse of the elderly because of their fear of getting involved in the “opening of a Pandora’s box” (Sugg and Inui, 1992) or because the victim denies abuse