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Elder Abuse in Minnesota: It's All in the Family

PHOTO: A statewide campaign to identify and combat the ever growing crime of elder abuse is being launched today in Minnesota. CREDIT: Fechi Fajardo
PHOTO: A statewide campaign to identify and combat the ever growing crime of elder abuse is being launched today in Minnesota. CREDIT: Fechi Fajardo
June 11, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. - With the population of Minnesota growing older than it's ever been, a new campaign kicks off today to help prevent the abuse and exploitation of elders in the state. According to Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo, part of the goal of the "Stop Abuse and Financial Exploitation of Elders in Minnesota Initiative" is to bring the issue out of the shadows, as in about two-thirds of the cases the perpetrator is a family member of the victim.

"You know, 40 years ago we did this with child abuse," stated Palumbo, whose territory covers the northern part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Twin Cities region. "People considered that to be just kind of a family situation and there shouldn't be any intervention. We, of course, changed that, and I think the same will be true in elder abuse. It is not just a family situation. It affects not only that person, but all of us."

While the crime is one of the most under-reported, often because of those family ties, there were still nearly 30,000 cases of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation investigated by social services statewide last year.

The crimes can also be difficult to spot and the victim is sometimes isolated by the abuser, so Palumbo said, everyone needs to keep an eye on relatives, friends and neighbors for changes of life circumstances not readily explained.

"For example, someone who regularly has attended, say, a church or any type of religious service, and then suddenly quits coming for no particular apparent reason" would be noteworthy, he said. "That may be an indication of either poor health or that someone has intervened to prevent them from having contact with the outside world."

One reason seniors are targeted is reduced mental capacity. Iris Freeman, associate director of the Center for Elder Justice and Policy at William Mitchell College of Law, said another is because many have amassed some wealth over the years.

"There is wealth among older people, but wealth is not a requirement for being a victim, because people in any community, even people who live on very limited incomes, can be victimized by people who are interested in getting their money," Freeman said.

Nationally, scam artists steal a documented $3 billion a year from the 55-plus population, although that is just a mere fraction of the actual amount.

The Minnesota S.A.F.E. Elders Initiative is supported by a coalition of senior advocacy groups, including AARP of Minnesota.

More information is at bit.ly/17CjQqT.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN