Elder abuse is a grossly under reported crime. It is estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse is reported. While many citizens and professionals are required to report abuse, many fail to do so, in part, because they do not fully understand their reporting obligations or how to make an effective report. What is effective reporting of elder abuse or maltreatment?
First, if an elder or other vulnerable adult is in imminent danger, call 911. If there is no imminent danger or law enforcement is involved, you should still report the abuse to the correct reporting agency.
All maltreatment should be reported to the agency or entity to which you must report the suspected abuse, neglect and exploitation, even if you or someone else has contacted law enforcement or other emergency services. Each state has an agency assigned to investigate abuse reports. Each agency assigned this task has a phone number(s), fax number, and often an on-line reporting mechanism to allow individuals to report suspected abuse or maltreatment. These entities and correct reporting numbers are available on our State Reporting Hotlines and Websites list.
One common misconception is that, before an abuse report can be made, you must be certain maltreatment is occurring. However, in all states, the law only requires reporters suspect abuse, neglect or exploitation before reporting. This means, if you suspect an elderly person or vulnerable adult is being harmed, report it. You need not verify or determine the abuse has occurred. The agency or entity to which you are required to report will investigate, make a determination of whether maltreatment is occurring, and take the necessary actions to protect the victim under the state’s adult protective service laws.
What To Include When Reporting Maltreatment
Once you know the entity to which you must report abuse, neglect and exploitation, gather the facts. Effective reporting requires enough information to allow investigators to identify the alleged abuser, the victim, potential witnesses (if known), and the situation that leads you to suspect abuse. Below is the list of information you should provide to make you abuse report more effective:
- Your name and contact information. While you are anonymous as a reporter, you will be asked to provide your name and contact information to allow investigators to reach you if they need additional information.
- The victim’s name, age, sex, race, and contact information. The center of any report is the victim. Provide as much information about the victim as possible, including their address and phone number. If you are uncertain of the victim’s age, provide an approximate age. Example: Valerie Victim is a white female, approximately 70 years old, and lives at 111 Lakeshore Drive, Tiny Town, Any State 11111. Her phone number is 555-555-0000.
- The victim’s disabilities or other health problems that would make him/her vulnerable to maltreatment. Each state defines maltreatment differently based on the the age of the victim or his/her disabilities. Providing this information to investigators allows them to better understand the vulnerabilities of the victim. Example: Valerie Victim suffers from dementia of an Alzheimer’s type, is confined to a wheelchair, and is unable to feed or dress herself.
- The victim’s living arrangements, if known. Identify where the victim lives–in his/her own home, in an assisted living facility or nursing home, with a family member or friend, or with the alleged abuser. Example: Valerie Victim lives in her own home, but her daughter has moved in with her.
- The victim’s date of birth, social security number, or other identifying information. The more information you can provide the more information the investigators can quickly gather about the victim.
- The alleged abuser’s name, age, date of birth, social security number, sex, race, and address. Provide as much information as you have about the alleged abuser to help investigators differentiate him/her from other witnesses or the victim. Example: Dolly Daughter is a white female, approximately 40 years old who lives with Valerie Victim at at 111 Lakeshore Drive, Tiny Town, Any State 11111. Her phone number is 555-555-0000.
- The alleged abuser’s relationship to the victim. It is important to know if the alleged abuser has a special relationship with the victim that may include legal duties or obligations. Example: Dolly Daughter is Valerie Victim’s oldest daughter and has a durable power of attorney for Valerie Victim.
- The names and contact information for any witnesses. If you are aware of anyone who may also be aware of the abuse, include them in your reporter so investigators can obtain corroborating or additional information. Example: Dr. Madeline Medicine is Valerie Victim’s primary care physician. She has seen the bruises on the victim. Brenda Banker is the teller at Valerie Victim’s bank and has seen the daughter transfer large sums of money from the victim’s accounts.
- The date, place and time of the alleged maltreatment. It is important to provide times and dates or time periods for investigators. Example: Valerie Victim has had her utilities shut off three times in the last six months. On December 24-28, 2016, she was left unattended by Dolly Daughter. On January 2, 2017, Dolly Daughter pushed Valerie Victim to the floor when she refused to give Dolly her checkbook.
- A detailed description of the alleged maltreatment. Provide investigators with as much detail as possible about what makes you suspect abuse, neglect or exploitation. Example: From December 24-28, 2016, Valerie Victim, who suffers from dementia and cannot take care of herself, was left unattended by Dolly Daughter, who lives with her. During that time, Dolly withdrew $17,000.00 from Valerie’s checking account. On December 26, 2016, Valerie’s utilities were shut off for non-payment. She fell in during the night of December 27, 2016 and broke her hip. She was found on December 28, 2016 when neighbors were walking their dog and overheard her cries for help and broke the front window to get into her home. At the time she was taken to the emergency room, Valerie weighted less than 100 pounds, was clothed in a filthy nightgown, and covered in flea bites.
- Include only limited documents. Most states do not want individuals reporting abuse to send medical records, arrest reports/records, credit reports, or case files to the reporting agency. These documents can be obtained by investigators through their agency resources. In cases of financial exploitation it may be necessary to include some financial records of the exploitation. These might include bank statements showing transfers, copies of cancelled checks, or even certain credit card statements. However, these disclosures should be limited to the allegations and provided sparingly until requested by the investigators.
It is not necessary that you have all this information before you report. However, the more information you have, the more likely investigators can assist the victim. Always remember: if you suspect an elderly person or other vulnerable is the victim of maltreatment, report it. Your report could save someone’s life.