Abuser Dependency

Related to the previous risk factor, findings from early research on elder mistreatment suggests that perpetrators tended to be dependent on the individual they were mistreating. In 1982, Wolf and colleagues surveyed community agencies in Massachusetts regarding elder abuse cases they had encountered (Wolf et al., 1982). The authors identified a “web of mutual dependency” between abuser and abused. In two-thirds of the cases in that study, the perpetrator was reported to be financially dependent on the victim. Another early study by Hwalek et al. (1984) also reported that financial dependence on a relative was a risk factor in abuse. Other studies, without control groups, have found substantial percentages of financially dependent abusers (Anetzberger, 1987; Greenberg et al., 1990).

A number of studies have confirmed this finding. Pillemer (1986; Wolf and Pillemer, 1989) found that abusers were substantially more dependent on the victim for housing and financial assistance than were members of a comparison group. In Pillemer and Finkelhor’s (1989) analysis of cases from a random-sample survey, nearly identical results emerged.



Adult protective services reports and other studies of agency samples universally find that the majority of victims are female (Wolf, 1997b). However, it is not clear whether this is due to higher risk for victimization or to women’s greater numbers in the population of seniors. Pillemer and Finkelhor’s (1988) survey suggested that the latter may be the case; in their study, they found that the victimization rate for men was higher at 5.1 percent, compared with 2.5 percent for women. They attributed this in part to the fact that elderly women are much more likely to live alone, which reduces their risk. Furthermore, their sample included intimate partner abuse among the well elderly, in which the victim would not necessarily have been classified as vulnerable according to our definition.

Pillemer and Finkelhor (1988) also noted the important caveat that women tended to sustain more serious abuse and to suffer greater physical and emotional harm from mistreatment. This may in turn explain their greater representation as victims in adult protective services caseloads.

Relationship of Victim to Perpetrator

Despite suggestions that adult children are the most likely perpetrators of elder abuse, the only survey-based study of this topic found that spouses

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