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Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America
guish between acceptable transactions and exploitative conduct and to separate misconduct from mismanagement (Central California Legal Services, 2001).
Unlike physical abuse or neglect, the manifestations of financial abuse are generally not immediately evident and discoverable (Dessin, 2000). There is a general attitude that outsiders should not meddle in the financial affairs of another (Dessin, 2000). As discussed, the victim is frequently reluctant to report the abuse or may have been unaware of its occurrence (Deem, 2000; Dessin, 2000). Voluntarily or involuntarily, the management of the victim’s financial affairs may have been entrusted to another. The perpetrator may have taken steps to hide the abuse from the victim, or the victim may lack the capacity to recognize that the acts taken constituted financial abuse (Dessin, 2000). Compounding the problem is that financial abuse generally occurs in a private setting, enhancing the difficulty of detection (Dessin, 2000).
Another barrier is that the victims’ diminished mental capacity may make it unclear whether they understood and consented to the financial transaction (Central California Legal Services, 2001). Alternatively, it can be difficult to determine whether the elder person was the victim of unfair persuasion or coercion (Central California Legal Services, 2001). As one commentator has noted, “in a relationship in which one person is likely to want to give and the other is likely to feel an entitlement to receive, how can the law identify improper transactions?” (Dessin, 2000:213).
Officials responsible for investigating and prosecuting financial abuse must often review and evaluate complex records, frequently without the assistance of a witness capable of testifying or willing to testify (Dessin, 2000). Relevant documents may be in the hands of perpetrators or may have been destroyed (Nerenberg, 2000c). Bank officials may resist releasing records because of fear of breaching privacy or confidentiality laws (Nerenberg, 2000c).
Investigating and prosecuting financial abuse typically requires expertise across a range of subject areas, and most law enforcement personnel and many prosecutors lack this expertise, with training in these areas often not provided and rotation through assignments preventing the acquisition of needed knowledge (Coker and Little, 1997; Nerenberg, 2000c). As a result of a lack of expertise, responsible officials may fail to recognize financial abuse or to pursue it effectively (Nerenberg, 2000c). Alternatively, officers and prosecutors with expertise may be inundated with such cases and forced to prioritize and limit the scope of their efforts (Nerenberg, 2000c).
Also, officials often view financial crimes as strictly civil matters and discourage their prosecution (Nerenberg, 2000c). Alternatively, they may perceive them as less serious or important than violent crimes and give them