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Guest Commentary: Fighting elder abuse in the 1st Judicial District

Kenneth Baldwin, District Attorney General • Nov 25, 2019 at 6:15 AM

The First Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference are working tirelessly to improve laws and raise awareness in the escalating issue of elder in abuse in Tennessee.

This problem is rapidly growing in the First Judicial District and the District Attorney’s Office is reaching out to the citizens to inform them of measures they can take to help fight this battle. The number of cases involving elder abuse and vulnerable adults reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office has vastly increased over the last few years. The implementation of the Vulnerable Adult Protection Investigative Team in the district has involved the District Attorney’s Office with cases that are reported to Adult Protective Services.

VAPIT members include staff of the District Attorney’s Office, local law enforcement, and APS workers. Routine meetings are held that allow members of VAPIT to discuss cases and make recommendations for further investigation measures that should be taken, as well as placing appropriate charges if the requirements of the law are met. The implementation of VAPIT is proving to provide the necessary tools to ensure that abusers of the elderly or vulnerable adults are held accountable for their actions and are brought to justice.

The issue at hand is what you can do as a community to help report incidents concerning abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation. Abuse can occur in the form of physical, emotional, or sexual and is not confined to the elderly, but also includes vulnerable adults. Neglect and financial exploitation are also other crimes that occur involving the elderly and a vulnerable adult and persons committing unlawful acts are not always caregivers. Family members, telephone scammers, and neighbors are just a few examples of people who may be involved with committing illegal or abusive acts against the elderly or a vulnerable adult. Statistics show that only one out of 14 cases of these sorts of crime is reported. As many as one of every 10 Americans over the age of 60 has experienced some form of elder abuse. Victims are often afraid, or unable to report abuse, which hinders efforts of stopping unlawful acts. Oftentimes they refuse to assist in prosecutions because of their dependence or trust in the abuser in the absence of support from others.

The diligent work of the Tennessee District Attorney Generals over the past four years to strengthen, revise and update criminal statutes pertaining to elder abuse has resulted in greater protection for the elderly and vulnerable adults. These efforts have made more resources available for law enforcement and prosecutors to hold offenders accountable for their actions. There is still more that needs to be done to ensure the elders and vulnerable adults of your community are protected. Law enforcement and prosecutors need your help to bring justice to these innocent victims. Below is information on how you can learn more about elder abuse and how you can help aid to the helpless victims of these crimes.

Tennessee Code Annotated, §71-6-103, defines the responsibility and duty of Tennesseans to report suspected abuse. If you suspect that an elder or vulnerable adult has been the victim of abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation, there is something you can do about it. Report these unlawful acts by calling 1-888-APS-TENN (1-888-277-8366) or visit https://reportadultabuse.dhs.tn.gov/. You can make a difference.

Visit www.tndagc.org/elderabuse for more information.

Kenneth Baldwin is the District Attorney General for the 1st Judicial District (Carter, Johnson, Unicoi, and Washington counties) of Tennessee.

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