Coordinated Community Response: Wisconsin Elder Abuse

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 the world will recognize the 6th annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Communities, governments and individuals will, through a mix of media activities, try to help us all become fully aware that everywhere older adults are being abused. At the Door County Senior Resource Center, located at 832 N. 14th Avenue in Sturgeon Bay, a program on Personal Safety for Elders will be presented at 10:30 am by Connie Schuster of the Door County Sheriff’s Department and Bonnie Coonan of the Door County Sexual Assault Center. Everyone is encouraged to wear purple that day.

The following are facts about abuse in the State of Wisconsin for 2009, published in August of 2010:

• 5,316 cases of suspected abuse, neglect or financial exploitation were reported, which was an 8.5 percent increase over 2008. 1 in 14 of these cases were life threatening or fatal.

• The types of abuse: 49.4 percent self-neglect, 49.6 percent inflicted by someone else, 18.4 percent financial exploitation, 11.6 percent neglect by others, 7.3 percent emotional abuse, 5.9 percent physical abuse, .6 percent sexual abuse, .4 percent unreasonable confinement/restraint, and 6.4 percent unspecified.

• 60.2 percent of the victims were female and 39.8 percent were male.

• 54.5 percent of the victims were responsible for their own decisions and 32.6 percent had someone else as a decision maker, often the abuser.

• The abuse occurred 90.6 percent in the victim’s residence of which 85.85 percent were in the home and 14.2 percent were in an institution (nursing home, assisted living, etc.).

• The victim’s age was 22 percent: 60-69, 30 percent: 70-79, 37 percent: 80-80, 11 percent: 90+.

• Of the abusers, 40.6 percent were the victim’s adult children, 14.2 percent were the victim’s spouse, 13.4 percent were a relative which included grandchildren, 11.5 percent were a friend or neighbor, and 16.4 percent were unknown or other.

• 50.5 percent of the abusers lived with the victim.

• The majority of the abusers were aged 45 to 79.

The most telling comment was “I thought I was the only one living like this.”

Please, if you feel uncomfortable in any way in a relationship, tell someone you trust and who will believe you. That person can help you decide how to get help. Options include reporting the abuse to the police or the Department of Social Services, Adult Services. You can call HELP of Door County, Inc. Domestic Hotline for assistance for safety planning and exploration of more action options.

Also, if you are concerned about someone that you suspect is being abused, try to find a way to talk to them alone. Begin by sharing what you have observed and that you are really concerned about their safety. You want them to know that you are there first to listen and secondly, to help them to be safe. You can give them several telephone numbers for places that can be of help. You can volunteer to go with them to talk to someone who can help. It is critical that you do not do anything that could decrease their safety. If they do not want to do anything at that time, accept their decision and continue to provide support and your availability to listen and help.

Being aware and acting on our understanding can make Door County a safer place for all older adults.

This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.