Today is the fifteenth anniversary of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. In the shadow of a pandemic that has disproportionately affected senior populations, we come together to raise awareness about elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
For too long elder abuse—a term that encompasses physical abuse, financial fraud, scams and exploitation, caregiver neglect and abandonment, psychological abuse, and sexual abuse—was a hidden epidemic. But as the global population of older persons grows, elder abuse is finally being treated as a public health crisis requiring collective action.
In the United States, an estimated 5 million older adults are abused, neglected, or exploited each year. Victims of elder abuse are robbed of their homes, life savings, their dignity, their independence, and sometimes even their lives. In his 2019 report to Congress on elder fraud and abuse Attorney General William Barr wrote, "Crimes against the elderly are particularly despicable because they exploit and endanger citizens that are among our most vulnerable."
As the Director of the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), I am proud of our efforts to address elder abuse and provide services for the victims.
In March, DOJ launched the National Elder Fraud Hotline (1–833–FRAUD–11). Managed by OVC, the Hotline provides services to all adults ages 60 and older who may be victims of financial fraud. Financial fraud and romance scams often go unreported because victims are scared, embarrassed, or unsure who to call. The hotline connects victims with experienced case managers who provide personalized support to callers, sending them resources, referring them to other services, and filing reports to the FBI or consumer complaints to the FTC as needed. Visit the Hotline website to help OVC raise awareness for this valuable resource with digital artwork and a forthcoming public service announcement (PSA).
Earlier this year, OVC released two funding opportunities focused on combating elder fraud and preventing further harm to vulnerable victims. I'm pleased to announce that we are awarding nearly $2 million to the National White Collar Crime Center under the first of those funding opportunities—the FY 2020 Training for Law Enforcement to Improve Identification of and Response to Elder Fraud Victims grant program. Through this grant, the National White Collar Crime Center, working with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, will provide training and technical assistance to enhance law enforcement's ability to identify elder fraud victims, connect those victims with available services, and bring the fraudsters to justice. The second solicitation will award up to twelve grantees up to $500,000 each to support communities in providing services to older victims of abuse and exploitation, using trauma-informed approaches that protect the safety and confidentiality of victims.
OVC also made multiple, three-year awards in fiscal 2019 under three new national-scope programs geared toward "Transforming America’s Response to Elder Abuse." One of these grantees, Equal Justice Works, is mobilizing attorneys to address the gap in civil legal services for victims of elder abuse and exploitation. Twenty-two Elder Justice Program Fellows will soon join legal services organizations across the country to enforce the rights of older Americans and address the wide-ranging civil legal issues they face. Applications are still being accepted. Other national-scope programs are developing enhanced multidisciplinary teams, building state technology capacity, and launching elder abuse hotlines.
Besides directing more funds to elder abuse programs, OVC, with the help of the Department's Elder Justice Initiative, is meeting the needs of elder abuse victims by releasing products and resources that further the field of elder abuse and financial exploitation. For instance, the Strategies and Training to Address Greater Elder Safety curriculum educates teams of judicial, justice, and community professionals about financial exploitation and elder abuse. Training videos featuring the voices of older survivors, a digital dashboard for hospital emergency departments to screen for elder abuse victims, and curriculums to help victim advocates become elder justice advocates are just a few of the many recent OVC-funded products and resources designed to assist the elder abuse field. You can access a comprehensive roundup of OVC's elder abuse publications and resources here, and even more from the Department of Justice's (DOJ's) Elder Justice Initiative.
Virtual programming is key to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day's success this year, so I encourage all of you to visit the University of Southern California's Center on Elder Mistreatment for tools and tips about raising awareness of elder abuse. There, you will find outreach and social media guides, sample letters to the editor, downloadable flyers, and more. This year's theme is "Lifting Up Voices," and the Action Guide offers ideas for making older survivors heard, from inviting them to write blogs or record vlogs about their stories to hosting a virtual event and inviting survivors to speak.
As the Director of OVC, I am dedicated to elevating the survivor voice by listening to victims, survivors, and service providers directly, and to seek opportunities for their experiences to inform our programming.
On behalf of the Office for Victims of Crime, thank you for your efforts and steadfast dedication to all victims of crime.
Jessica E. Hart
Director, Office for Victims of Crime