In 2017, Attorney General, Brad Schimel, prioritized elder abuse. He launched a task force to compile resources and knowledge from professionals to study the impact of elder abuse in Wisconsin and assess ways to improve outcomes for this growing population of citizens. In addition to developing strategies to address barriers in investigation and prosecutions of elder abuse, the task force was designed to strengthen consumer protection for seniors. Elder abuse is a vastly underreported crime, making the awareness of elder abuse critical to holding perpetrators accountable and equipping advocates with the tools to respond appropriately to abuse.
The first phase of the public awareness campaign was launched in January 2017 to encourage citizens to report elder abuse, teach how to recognize elder abuse, and connect victims with resources. The attorney general also started the “Safe Seniors Camera Program”, a new pilot project in Brown, Outagamie, and Winnebago counties that allows Wisconsin residents, who suspect a caregiver is abusing their loved one, to use a covert camera to provide surveillance over someone who may have been harmed by a caregiver in their residence. In October 2017, the attorney general expanded “Dose of Reality”, a statewide prevention campaign designed to raise awareness about prescription drug abuse and its effect on the opioid epidemic, to include resources and information unique to seniors and caregivers.
In May, 2018, the attorney general launched the next phase of the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s (DOJ) campaign to raise awareness about elder abuse and encourage citizens to report abuse against seniors. This phase featured a new website, www.ReportElderAbuseWI.org., and paid online outreach aimed at elder abuse victims. The development of the website and outreach to victims of elder abuse is funded through the Victims of Crime Act grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. “Elder abuse is drastically underreported, and it can be deadly,” said Attorney General Schimel. “Studies show that even modest abuse increases the chance of premature death by 300%, and because Wisconsin’s elderly population will increase 72% in the next two decades, we have to raise awareness, increase access to support for victims, and strengthen our response to every type of elder abuse.”
“This is an important resource, especially for individuals and families that have been victimized by elder abuse and exploitation and don’t know where to turn for help,” said AARP Wisconsin State Director, Sam Wilson. “Unfortunately, we continue to see and hear horror stories about older Wisconsin residents who are being taken advantage of simply because they don’t have the capacity to stand up to their abusers or know how to report these crimes. This online tool is an important step in a larger strategy to give Wisconsinites the information and resources they need to help them identify and, more importantly, report suspected abuse and exploitation. The sooner we can remove the abused from dangerous situations and punish those committing these unconscionable acts, the better our entire society will be for it.”
In Wisconsin, counties reported 7,019 complaints in 2016, up 21 percent from just three years earlier. Demographics are broadening the vulnerable population, with the number of people 65 and older projected to almost double by 2050 in the United States. Burnett County Adult Protective Services investigated 116 cases of Elder Abuse & Neglect in 2017. To report suspected financial, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, please contact Burnett County Health & Human Services at (715) 349-7600. If you witness an act of abuse, neglect, or exploitation that requires immediate attention, please call 911.
Submitted by: Sandy Shields, MSW, Burnett County DHHS Adult Protective Services Social Worker
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