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Is Elder Abuse a Crime?

Most physical, sexual, and financial/material abuses are considered crimes in all states insofar as these acts violate statutes prohibiting crimes such as assault, battery, rape, theft, etc. In addition, depending on the perpetrators' conduct and intent, and the consequences for the victim, certain emotional abuse and neglect cases are subject to criminal prosecution.

State criminal statutes, adult protective laws, and federal statutes such as Medicare define and establish penalties for abuse, neglect, and exploitation of vulnerable adults. Prosecution of perpetrators is rare, however, and may be hampered by several factors including victims' fear of retaliation, hesitancy to prosecute family members, or lack of capacity to describe the crime or perpetrator.

While there has been some increase in cases prosecuted (particularly in the area of nursing home abuse largely due to aggressiveness of Medicaid Fraud Units), justice for elder abuse victims requires continued specialized training for police officers and other first responders, district attorneys, victim/witness professionals, lawyers, and the courts.

Recent Developments

Efforts are underway by the criminal justice system to improve response to elder abuse. Here in brief are some recent developments:

  • State Attorney General Offices and District Attorneys are setting up specialized elder abuse investigation and prosecution units.
  • Communities are creating multidisciplinary teams (MDTs or M-Teams) composed of professionals from law enforcement, ombudsman, health, and adult protective services to collaborate on elder abuse cases.
  • Fatality (forensic) review teams are being created to identify and respond to suspected cases of abuse.
  • Fiduciary abuse specialist teams (FASTs) involving accountants, FBI, insurance claims detectives, and other specialists are playing an increasing important role in pursuing financial abuse cases.

Links to More Information


Link to HHS website
Dept. of Health and Human Services

Last Modified: 9/21/2011 10:33:35 AM 
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