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June 19, 2012

 Cotter: Elder abuse not a 'private, family matter'
Just like with domestic violence, Berrien prosecutor says public's attitudes must be changed
By SCOTT AIKEN - H-P Staff Writer
June 15, 2012
ST. JOSEPH - Combating the growing problem of elder abuse will require changing public attitudes in a way similar to the shift that put domestic violence in the national spotlight, Berrien County Prosecutor Arthur Cotter said Thursday.

"We have to do a better job of reporting it and prosecuting it," Cotter told the county Board of Commissioners.
In many cases, friends or family members may suspect an older person is being physically abused, neglected of financially exploited, but they do not call authorities.
"With elder abuse, too often people think it's a private, family matter," Cotter said.
About a year ago the county formed a task force to increase public awareness of the problem and work toward solutions.
Also, the sheriff's department, the prosecutor's office and courts worked with the Area Agency on Aging, TRIAD (The Right Information and Direction, a group that works to prevent victimization of the elderly) and other organizations to develop a protocol for vulnerable adults. The protocol provides information on Adult Protective Services, interventions and a list of agencies and police departments to call to report suspected abuse.

Cotter's report coincided with today's designation as Worldwide Elder Abuse Awareness Day. A tree planting ceremony was to take place this morning at the River Valley Senior Center in Harbert.
Only a handful of people face criminal charges for elder abuse each year in Berrien County, Cotter said. Some offenses may not show up as elder abuse cases because the offenders are charged with domestic violence or other crimes.
"Even so, it's clear to me that this is being grossly under reported," Cotter said.
In a more detailed report to the county board's Administration Committee, Cotter said societal attitudes about domestic violence, where women are most often the victims, were changed through a concerted effort.

"Attitudes about domestic violence are such today that it is a crime against the state, and against the community, not just the victim," he said
Many instances of suspected elder abuse go unreported because people view it as private, or let it drop if one attempt to get information is stymied.
The task force is working with police and other first responders so that they know what steps to take when encountering suspected elderly abuse.
The Michigan House and Senate have passed a package of laws with tougher penalties for financial exploitation of the elderly and with help in prosecuting criminal cases. Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the bills into law.
The laws would allow elderly crime victims certain allowances so they do not have to have face-to-face contact with accused abusers during court proceedings.
Also, an abuse complaint to police or protective services could be initiated by a person other than the victim.
County Commissioner Mac Elliott, who is a lawyer in private practice, said the problem of financial exploitation of the elderly appears to be growing.

In one case, a widow whose husband had set up a trust to provide for her was being exploited by a relative and a trust officer, he said.
The abusers went so far as to deny the woman medical care, Elliott said, but the complicated situation was eventually corrected only weeks before the victim died.
"I've had four of these cases, all involving some big bucks, in the past three years," Elliott said.
The new laws would set penalties for financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult at up to 10 years in prison for amounts ranging from $20,000 to $50,000, up to 15 years for $50,000 to $100,000, and up to 20 years for amounts over $100,000.
Under current law, the penalties are up to five years in prison for embezzlement from a vulnerable adult of $1,000 to $20,000 and up to 10 years for $20,000 or more.

 SOURCE:    TheHeraldPalladium

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