California poised to lead the halt of financial elder abuse and other abuse

By Heather Cassell

San Francisco – California is a prime target for financial abuse as the nation’s highest retirement destination with an estimated 4.9 million people over 65-years of age living in the Golden State in 2003. That same population is expected to jump to more than 9 million by 2020.

Financial-related abuse of seniors is exploding. Reports of financial exploitation of the elderly has increased 150 percent within the past 10 years with monetary losses estimated to be several billion dollars annually, according to Jenefer Duane, founder and CEO of the Elder Financial Protection Network.

An estimated $4.8 billion dollars of California’s seniors’ assets are at risk, according to Duane, one of the senior advocates at the Gene Friend Recreation Center May 7 who came out in support of AB 768, an anti-elder abuse bill that will amend California’s Penal Code establishing emotional, physical, and financial abuse committed against a senior or dependent adult as a crime throughout the state.

AB 768 will strengthen California’s Penal Code making it easier to investigate and prosecute crimes against seniors by eliminating the required proof of knowledge of someone’s age or dependency status or the definition of caretaker; allows evidence of abuse as sufficient proof; and it establishes strict penalties in order to be charged with elder abuse.

Within the first few months of this year the San Francisco Police Department has received more than 100 cases involving financial abuse of seniors, San Francisco Chief of Police Heather Fong said. In 2008, the police department received more than 400 cases of financial-related abuse involving seniors.

Additionally, the police department has received more than 40 cases of reported elder abuse this year. In 2008, there were more than 240 reported cases of elder abuse, Fong said.

It is important for seniors and those who care about our elderly population to report elder abuse, especially suspected financially-related abuse, as it is underreported, especially financial elder abuse, according to A. Alan Kennedy, assistant district attorney and manager of the Elder Abuse Unit of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

Duane, Assemblywoman Norma Torres (D-Pomona), who authored AB 768, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, and senior advocates are calling Californians to action to protect the state’s elderly—especially when so many of our elders are unwilling to report crimes against them.

“Elder abuse is a crime. Make no mistake. It must be reported and it must be stopped…we owe it to you to do everything we can to protect you,” Duane told seniors gathered at the center. She urged them to tell their friends about the bill and to report suspected incidents of abuse.

Seniors who are victims of financially-related abuse are more likely to be institutionalized and the mortality rate of seniors who are abused is three times higher than that of seniors who do not experience abuse, according Duane.

It’s important for seniors and those who care about our elders—a treasured asset of our families and communities—to support the passage of AB 768, that will amend California’s Penal Code establishing emotional, physical, and financial abuse committed against a senior or dependent adult as a crime throughout the state.

This bill is unique in that it recognizes acts of fraud, theft, embezzlement, forgery and other financially-related crimes as a form of abuse that can leave seniors in financial ruin at a stage in their lives when they should be enjoying the fruits of their labors.

“An elder who has lost their life’s savings cannot go back to work and regain what they made their entire life. This affects an elder’s ability to remain independent in their home and can result in early and unnecessary institutionalization placement in a nursing home,” said Duane.

The community is joining together to be a “loud voice in support of our seniors,” Harris said.

“The current elder abuse statutes are as about solid as Swiss cheese,” Harris continued. “[We want to] make sure that we have the teeth in this statute to take a bite out of those crimes and send those offenders where they belong.”

Torres added, the law will “make it easier to protect seniors as we protect our children,” who need to be respected, should be taken care of, and should be protected from abuse, she said.

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