Jared Effler is District Attorney General for the 8th Judicial District and is shown here hosting the first School Resource Officer (SRO) and School Administration Training Session in July.

By Jared Effler

JACKSBORO, TN (WLAF) – Tennessee’s District Attorneys General are on a mission to protect seniors from elder abuse. We are improving laws, increasing public awareness and, with the help of other partners, using criminal investigations and courtroom prosecutions to protect our seniors.  But, we need the help of informed citizens to win this battle.

Elder abuse can take a number of forms, including financial exploitation. Those taking an elder’s money could be telephone scammers, but may also include neighbors, family members, service providers or serial criminals looking for easy targets.  Elder abuse may also include the neglect of the elderly or vulnerable, physical abuse or even sexual abuse.

An 81-year old man was found in his home, mostly unresponsive, adhered to his couch, covered in his own urine and feces, with multiple bed sores on his buttocks and hip areas. His eyes were matted shut. The emergency medical technicians responding to the scene described the smell in the home as unforgettable. Upon admission to the hospital, he was diagnosed with dehydration and effects of starvation. His caregiver had moved to another home, but admitted she was the sole caregiver. That prosecution was later abated by the death of the accused.

In another case, an 84-year old grandmother died when her granddaughter strangled her to death with a piece of wire. The granddaughter was ultimately convicted of murder and is now residing in Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) custody.

In yet another case, the defendant was living with his elderly father-in-law when he began stealing money from the victim’s bank account in excess of $1,300.00. The defendant was convicted of Financial Exploitation of an Adult, sentenced to TDOC custody and was placed on Tennessee’s Elder Abuse Registry.

These are just a few of the criminal cases we see far too often in our courts. Perhaps even more alarming is the reality that the cases we see in Tennessee’s criminal justice system are only a fraction of the abuse that is actually occurring. Statistics on elder abuse suggest that only one out of 14 cases are ever reported. The under-reporting problem is growing here and across the country as our aging population climbs. Yet victims often are afraid – or unable – to report the abuse, or may refuse to assist in the prosecutions because of their dependence or trust in the abuser in the absence of support from others.

Tennessee District Attorneys General have worked diligently or the past four years to strengthen, revise and update criminal statutes pertaining to elder abuse. This has resulted in greater protections for the elderly and vulnerable, and better tools for police and prosecutors to hold offenders responsible. We believed then, and are seeing now, that we can do more to help and that recent efforts are helping.

Since 2015, local government and nonprofit agencies have been collaborating to combat elder abuse and to improve protection of these older adults. Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Teams (VAPIT) were created, which include representatives from the District Attorney’s office, local law enforcement, and Tennessee’s Adult Protective Services, that meet regularly to discuss referrals of abuse, neglect and exploitation. These teams provide a united effort to protect older adults through improved communication to make sure reported abuse is properly investigated, victims are protected and abusers are brought to justice.

Our elderly population is growing as baby boomers become seniors, meaning both the need for support services is increasing as is the opportunity to commit elder abuse. Our ability to respond to reports of elder abuse has improved; however, the missing link in our response to the elder abuse crisis is under-reporting. Simply put, law enforcement is ready to respond but is powerless to intervene if the abuse is not reported.

Tennessee’s older adults – our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings – deserve fundamental freedoms and dignity. Our current elderly are part of what some have called the greatest generation. They have a wealth of skills and knowledge that they have developed over a lifetime of experiences. They add strength and wisdom to our community. Let’s all work together to prevent elder abuse before it happens.

Tennessee state law requires reporting of suspected abuse of a vulnerable or elderly adult. To report, call 1-888-APS-TENN (277-8366) or visit HERE.   For more information, connect HERE.

Jared Effler is District Attorney General for the 8th Judicial District (Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union Counties)  (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 11/14/2019-6AM)