Elder Abuse: When Victims Balk, Should Prosecutors Press Charges?

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Photo by Patrick Doheny via Flickr

When  Rita Armaganian went to visit her 80-year-old next-door neighbor, Hilda Bassett in Warwick, R.I., she noticed a small spot of blood on Hilda’s cheek and a large bruise. Her glasses lay broken. Bassett admitted that her daughter had slapped her in the face. The victim eventually provided a statement, and the daughter was charged.

But three weeks later, Rhode Island prosecutors dismissed the case “in the interests of justice.”

The 2007 case underlines a poignant fact: elders are often reluctant to press charges for abuse because they don’t want to lose the support of caregivers—even if the caregivers were responsible for the abuse, reports the Providence Journal.

And authorities and advocates for the elderly generally defer to the victims.

“The victim, unfortunately, will often try to protect the perpetrator of the crime because it’s someone they love or want to love, and these are often the people taking the most advantage of them,” according to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.

Oregon’s Department of Elderly Affairs handles such cases, and five investigators each handle 30 to 35 cases monthly.

“We can’t force services upon elder adults,” said supervisor Boakai Kamara, nor can they require cooperation with the police. “They have the right to say no if they want to live with the person who is abusing them.”

See also: America’s Oldest Crime Victims

In cases where the perpetrator is the victim’s only caregiver, pressing charges can mean losing the victim’s sole support. Caregivers have “a lot of influence,” said Julie Schoen of the National Center for Elder Abuse at the University of Southern California.

“And that’s what the person will use against [the elder]. It’s very understandable how it happens.”

Rosenblum said that in abusive relationships, not prosecuting a case can leave the elder in a dangerous situation. “I’ve seen situations where people didn’t want to prosecute, and it has happened again and again … it really puts the victim at extreme risk,” she said. “(Good prosecutors) will do everything they can to try and persuade the victim to go forward with the case.”

See Also:  Elder Abuse: The Almost Invisible Crime

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