Abuse of elderly often unreported

Brianna Kirkham/Commercial-NewsState's Attorney Jacqueline Lacy talked to police officers on Friday about elderly abuse.

DANVILLE — Police officers throughout Vermilion County received special training Friday to help with an underreported issue — elder abuse.

Officers from Danville, Catlin, Westville and Georgetown police departments, as well as Vermilion and Champaign county sheriff departments, participated in the eight-hour training.

The Vermilion County Task Force was awarded a federal grant through the Department of Justice for this curriculum that is “proven to identify and curtail elder abuse,” according to a press release.

Their key focus points included understanding victim safety, being aware of and avoiding assumptions, recognizing abuser tactics and working collaboratively with others.

The training team included Vermilion County State’s Attorney Jacqueline Lacy, Vermilion County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Bill Hurt, Danville Detective Danielle Lewallen, Tawnya Morgan of Crosspoint at the Y, Rachel Kenner of the Vermilion County Rape Crisis Center and Melissa Courtwright of Adult Protective Services at CRIS Healthy-Aging.

Sgt. Hurt explained elder abuse is a reoccurring issue in the area and that Adult Protective Services exist to help officers with cases.

Of Vermilion County’s residents, 18 percent are aged 65 and older, according to 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. This is higher than the U.S. percentage of the same age group, which is less than 15 percent.

“APS (Adult Protective Services) can do things we can’t do,” he said. “There is help out there.”

According to the curriculum, for every one case reported, there are 23 more that go unheard.

Lacey said older adults can experience an array of different kinds of abuse, including physical, sexual, exploitation, emotional, neglect and financial.

These cases happen in all different areas of the county, Lewallen said, and aren’t specific to one race, religion or socioeconomic background.

“The majority of victims are female, but abuse also happens to older males,” she said.

Morgan explained that abusers can be relatives or caregivers. Many of them target their victims’ vulnerabilities by hiding their walkers, glasses and medication.

Some will deny them of their spirituality, refusing to take them to church.

Hurt said the worst elder abuse case he worked on involved a theft of more than $100,000, but the victim said the most painful experience was having his Bible taken away from him.

“We don’t know the privileges we’ll lose when we’re older,” Morgan said. “The ones we have, we want to keep.

The police officers participated in the lessons and discussed ways to identify victims and abusers.

“Abuse – in all actuality – is a choice,” Lewallen said. “Don’t assume it’s an accident.”

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