That message came through loud and clear in a meeting of the North Georgia Elder Abuse Task Force here in Rome. Law enforcement and state officials from throughout the region and also from Alabama began the work needed to launch a collaborative, multi-jurisdictional effort to cope with this epidemic.
Gwinnett County led the sad statistics statewide with 517 cases of elder abuse prosecuted over the past six-plus years, followed by DeKalb with 311, Houston with 308, Cobb with 263, Laurens 160, and Clarke 140. Next was Floyd County which has prosecuted 112 cases of elder abuse 2010 through mid-year 2016. In other counties of our region, the figures ranged from 33 cases prosecuted in Bartow to 27 in Polk, 10 in Gordon and four in Chattooga.
It’s an epidemic, according to Lyndie Freeman, a special prosecutor in the Georgia attorney general’s office. A Cobb County prosecutor, Jason Marbutt, likened the elder abuse situation today to the scope of child abuse cases two decades ago. There’s good news, however. Police Chief Dan Flynn of Marietta said, “We’re doing a better job.”
Unlike child abuse, the preponderance of elder abuse involves financial exploitation – comprising nearly 70 percent of the cases investigated in Georgia. Physical and institutional abuse accounted for the remainder of the cases.
An example of financial abuse was detailed by investigator Rusty Williams of the Floyd County Police Department. He told how a 63-year-old woman suffering with cancer was bilked out of more than $200,000 over six years by two perpetrators. At least one other victim of these two criminals was found in Roswell. The total taken from the two victims could exceed $2 million, the Floyd investigator said. Two suspects have been arrested in these cases and jailed in Fulton County.
Clearly, the demographic trends pose a challenge for the agencies working to combat elder abuse. Georgia has the 11th fastest-growing 60-and-over population and the 10th fastest-growing 85-plus population in the nation between 2010 and 2030, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. From one in six citizens age 60 and over in 2010, this number is projected to reach one in five by 2030. And the 85 and older group is expected to increase by a whopping 98 percent in that time frame. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately one in 10 Americans age 60 and older have experienced some form of abuse. Shockingly, in nearly 90 percent of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member. And the victims are counted in the millions nationwide.
“It is really a national hidden scandal,” according to Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, a caregiver support service, who has worked within of the government and in the private sector to advocate for elder rights.
For Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, input from all the agencies involved in the North Georgia Elder Abuse Task Force can help to make prosecution easier and sentences tougher for the predators on the elderly. Clearly, that is a key area of the effort to address the problems. This kind of abuse is too often hidden, with victims at the mercy of their abusers. The work of the task force is of the highest priority, and we commend all those involved in this effort to combat elder abuse and protect our senior citizens.