The Issue of Elder Abuse in the United States

Topics: Elder Abuse

Victimization is an asymmetrical relationship that is abusive, destructive, parasitical, unfair, and, in many cases, in violation of the law. You would think that elderly people are the least likely to be taken advantage of, actually you probably wouldnt even consider it, but there is not only one way you can define abuse to a victim. Elder abuse was made out after child abuse and spouse abuse but follows along the same lines.

Defining elder abuse varies in that it can consist of acts of commission and acts of ommision.

by caretakers responsible for the older persons well being. Therefore, abuse encompasses gross neglect as well as acts of intentional harm. These include assaults unreasonable confinement, financial exploitation or failure to provide clothing, food and shelter. (Crime Victims, An intro to Victimology, pg 79, 219-220) Persons who provide care to elderly people who live at home perpetrate domestic elder abuse. Individuals who have contractual obligation to tend to the needs of older persons commit institutional sibling.

The typical target is a frail elderly woman over 70. In most cases the victim and the abuser live in the same household in social isolation from friends, neighbors, and kin who might otherwise deem what they are doing wrong.

An estimated 1.5 million older Americans were subjected to physical, psychological, or financial abuse or suffered serious or even life threatening, neglect in 1992. Congressional investigators estimated that only about 16% of abused elders dared to bring their case to the proper authorities.
A sharply divided California Supreme Court, clarifying the duty to care for aged parents, ruled Friday that grown children can be prosecuted for neglect only if they have control over the elder’s care.

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“It means that if you take on the responsibility of caring for your parent, you care for your parent,” said Santa Ana attorney Richard Schwartzberg, who represented the defendant in the case before the court. “But you don’t have to take on that responsibility.” The court, in a 4-3 decision, examined the 1990 death of a Huntington Beach widower who, according to a prosecutor, lay alone without food or water and covered in his feces while his grown children ate Thanksgiving dinner in another room. The father, 67, a stroke victim who died days later of septic poisoning, was mentally fit but partially paralyzed, malnourished and dehydrated. His body was covered with gruesome bedsores and his own excrement.

A son told police that he was too busy cooking the holiday dinner to answer his father’s call for help to the bathroom and later shut the bedroom door so the odor would not permeate the house, according to Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Molko. The son also admitted that he had withheld food and liquids from his father for three days preceding his death because company was expected and the son did not want the house to smell. Molko won convictions against two sons who lived with their father but also wanted to charge an adult daughter who had been in the home on the holiday and on several occasions before his death. The victim’s wife had died three years earlier. The court majority, interpreting what it called an overly vague state law against elder abuse, ruled that the daughter could not be prosecuted because she had no control over her older brothers, the primary caretakers.

The state law, passed in 1983, makes it a felony for any person” to permit, knowingly and willfully, a dependent adult to suffer pain. But the court majority, led by Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas, contended that the law was too vague because even a deliveryman who happened onto such a household could be prosecuted for elder abuse. “One will be criminally liable for the abusive conduct of another,” Lucas wrote, “only if he or she has the ability to control such conduct.” Kathleen M. Harper, an Orange County deputy district attorney who handled the appeal, said the ruling shocked her.

“It is mind-boggling to me,” Harper said. “She was in that house every single weekend for five weeks before he died …. She can’t pick up a telephone and call a doctor? She is a grown woman.” Harper said the sister was just lazy and felt her father was her brothers’ responsibility. “I don’t see how a child can get away with that mentality,” Harper said. “It was all of their responsibility.” Voting with Lucas were Justices Joyce Kennard, Armand Arabian and Ronald George. Dissenting were Justices Marvin Baxter, Stanley Mosk and Kathryn Mickle Werdegar. Baxter, writing a dissent for the minority, noted that the defendant, Susan Valerie Heitzman, knew her father needed medical attention and was confined for long periods to a filthy bedroom and a damp, rotted mattress.

“Nevertheless,” Baxter wrote, “defendant did not take any steps to assist her father during this period.” But Schwartzberg, the daughter’s lawyer, said she had asked her brother and a nephew to take the father to a doctor. The sister, a store clerk in her early 30s, was horrified by the situation, the lawyer said, but could not drive or control her brothers. “I think there are a lot of women out there who feel powerless,” he said, “and in this situation she certainly did.” Heitzman had lived with and cared for her father until a year before his death. She was unavailable to comment Friday on the court’s ruling.

“When she cared for him,” the lawyer said, “he was fine. But eventually she said, ‘Hold it. I am trapped if I stay here…. I have a life to lead.'” Adult children are rarely prosecuted under the elder abuse law, Molko said, because most neglected and aged parents live alone. Proving abuse or neglect by their children is difficult. Under the ruling, adult children can be prosecuted only if they have taken responsibility for their parents, such as living with them, financially supporting them or arranging for a third party to care for them, the Santa Ana attorney said. The decision “doesn’t mean you have an obligation to make sure that Mom sees the doctor” in other circumstances. The victim in the case, Robert Heitzman, had suffered a series of strokes 20 years before he died.

The grown children apparently had enjoyed good relations with their father when they were young, Schwartzberg said. “I just don’t think they had a concept of social responsibility,” he said. But prosecutor Molko has a different theory. He surmised that the sons, Richard Heitzman Sr. and Jerry Heitzman, who were sentenced to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and elder abuse, did not want to send their father to a hospital because they feared losing his veterans’ benefits, which helped support the household. A fourth sibling, a sister, had anonymously contacted a county social worker months earlier. The social worker had told the brothers their father needed to see a doctor and probably be hospitalized, Molko said. A Superior Court judge had initially dismissed the case against Susan Heitzman, but a Court of Appeal in Santa Ana reversed the decision. Heitzman then appealed the ruling to the state’s highest court.

The Times Mirror Company, Los Ange A Toronto retirement home manager was found guilty yesterday of assaulting two elderly residents who testified against him on police videotaped statements from beyond the grave. Ramnarine (Tony) Khelawon, 35, was convicted of aggravated assault and uttering a death threat against Teofil Skupien. “Mr. Khelawon beat Mr. Skupien, who was 78 years old, until he had multiple bruising, bleeding from his face and broken ribs,” prosecutor David Butt said after the verdict.

Khelawon was also found guilty of assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon — a cane water was found on a bathroom floor. Both victims have since died from unrelated causes. Their accounts of the assaults were given in court via the videotapes that Butt described as the “heart” of his case. He said the men were frail and vulnerable victims who lived in the home because they needed Khelawon, a nurse, to care for them — the “very person who beat them until they bled.” (Copyright 2001 Sun Media Corporation The Toronto Sun November 22, 2001 Thursday, Final Edition )

A bill designed to make it easier to prosecute cases of elder abuse got initial approval Monday night from the Missouri House. One part of the bill would allow statements elderly victims make at the time of an assault to be admissible as evidence later in court. Opponents said this provision would keep those accused from being able to face their accusers. The bill would also ensure that law enforcement officers are “promptly” called in to investigate reports of abuse. Under current law, the Division of Aging investigates reports and, under certain circumstances, refers them to police. Proponents have said this referral sometimes takes weeks or months, enough time for the victims to have forgotten or died.

The sponsor, Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield, said the measure makes sure the elderly aren’t treated as “some sort of second-class citizens.” Sporadic debate over the bill covered several weeks. Hosmer said he is worried about an amendment pushed by Rep. Mark Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, and Rep. Ryan McKenna, D-Barnhart.

Hosmer’s bill would allow the Division of Aging to set staffing ratios in some nursing homes. Richardson said the required staffing ratios could make staffing problems even worse. He and Mckenna backed an amendment that would allow some nursing homes facing these requirements to petition the state for more money. The amendment passed 13318. “If we’re going to require this for these nursing homes, then we ought to pay for it,” Richardson said, earlier this month. Hosmer said this amendment would reward poorly run nursing homes. He said he would work to remove the provision in the Senate. The bill is HB 1615.(Copyright 2000 St. Louis Post Dispatch Inc., March 28 2000, Illinois Five Star Edition)

Screening those who work with children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities is an important component in the prevention of abuse. Such practices, from basic screening methods (written applications, interviews, and reference checks) to other, more extensive or specialized practices (checks of criminal records, abuse registries, or sex offender registries), send a clear message that society values children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities and will not tolerate their abuse.

These guidelines highlight the importance of screening practices and, through the decision making model, provide a useful tool that States, organizations, and others can use when developing their own screening policies and practices. Because screening is not a guarantee that abuse will not occur, it is critical for all concerned to incorporate screening as a part of broader abuse prevention policies and practices.

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The Issue of Elder Abuse in the United States. (2022, Mar 08). Retrieved from

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