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The Department of Justice estimates that one in every ten seniors is abused each year, but only one out of every 23 cases of abuse is reported to the authorities. This could be a combination of the decline in cognitive abilities of the elderly and the lack of recognition for the signs of elder abuse.
But once they do get wind of elder abuse, law enforcement takes those allegations seriously. And state and federal statutes impose some serious penalties for elder abuse.
Many states have enacted specific elder abuse laws, some of which criminalize elder abuse specifically while others add enhanced penalties for crimes that target seniors. For instance, New York has a "Granny Law" enacted in 2008 that makes assault of a person over the age of 65 a second-degree assault, provided the assailant is at least 10 years younger. Second degree assault is a felony in the Empire State, carrying a possible two- to seven-year prison sentence.
Florida, unsurprisingly, also has strict codes prohibiting abuse, aggravated abuse, and neglect of an elderly person or disabled adult. Even if the abuse doesn't cause "great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement," abuse of an elderly person is a third degree felony, punishable by five years in prison, five years probation, and a $5,000 fine. And elder neglect can be a second degree felony getting you fifteen years behind bars, fifteen years probation, and a $10,000 in fines.
In an effort to protect senior citizens, Congress passed the Elder Justice Act (EJA) in 2010 as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The EJA set new reporting requirements for owners, operators, employees, managers, agents or contractors at long-term care facilities, and imposing penalties for failure to report elder abuse or retaliation against those who do report abuse.
Failing to report elder abuse can garner civil penalties of up to $200,000, or $300,000 if that failure to report either increased the harm to the victim or resulted in harm to another victim. And facilities and their owners can face up to $200,000 in fines and an end to federal assistance for retaliating against reporting individuals.
Elder abuse is serious. If you are aware of a situation that is threatening or dangerous, call 911 or the local police immediately. And be sure you're familiar with the Elder Abuse Suspicion Index (EASI) so you can spot the warning signs of elder abuse.