According to the National Institute of Justice, elder abuse and neglect have historically been understudied and underreported problems in the field of criminal law. This has been due, in part, to the lack of uniform reporting systems, unreliable data, and varying definitions of elder abuse across jurisdictions. In addition, elderly victims are often afraid to report the abuse or are simply unable to access the criminal justice system.
However, crimes against the elderly are a serious and growing concern. According to a study by the National Institute of Justice, 11% of elderly individuals reported that they experienced emotional, physical, or sexual mistreatment or neglect in 2009. Another study by the Office of Victims of Crime found that over 90,000 persons over the age of 65 were the victims of violent crime in 2010.
The Elder Abuse Victims Act (EAVA) is a legislative effort to address the growing problem of crimes against the elderly. Although a version of EAVA was passed by the House of Representatives in 2009, it was never voted on in the Senate and failed to become law. EAVA was reintroduced in the House of Representatives in 2013, but as of the end of 2014 had not passed either chamber and has not been enacted into law.
What Would EAVA Do?
The Elder Abuse Victims Act is designed to protect the rights of elderly victims of crime by strengthening efforts to criminally prosecute elder abuse cases. While the related Elder Justice Act, which became law in 2010, coordinated federal and state responses to elder abuse generally and expanded reporting requirements and civil penalties, the 2013 version of EAVA would specifically enhance the capacity to criminally prosecute elder abuse cases and would assure the collection, research, and evaluation of data relating to such cases.
Office of Elder Justice
The 2013 Elder Abuse Victims Act would create an Office of Elder Justice within the Department of Justice. That office would link the DOJ's expertise in elder abuse with the experience of state and local prosecutors who are prosecuting elder abuse cases throughout the country.
Specifically, the Office of Elder Justice would be responsible for:
- Providing information, training and technical assistance to states and local governments to investigate and prosecute elder abuse and to address the trauma suffered by victims
- Evaluating the effectiveness of efforts to prevent, detect, respond to or remedy elder abuse
- Determining the best practices for investigating elder abuse, addressing common evidentiary and legal issues, and interacting with victims
- Providing regular updates on state laws and practices relating to elder abuse
The 2013 EAVA would also require the Attorney General, on an annual basis, to collect data on elder abuse cases from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The Attorney General would then be required to identify common data points in order to develop a uniform national database on elder abuse cases.
Grant Funding For States
The 2013 Elder Abuse Victims Act would also authorize the Office of Elder Justice to provide grants for up to fifteen states to establish and operate programs to improve their responses to elder abuse as well as their investigations and prosecutions of elder abuse cases. However, the grants would require such states to have programs for compensating crime victims and multidisciplinary task forces to review and evaluate investigative, administrative, and judicial responses to elder abuse cases.
Other Support To States
Although EAVA has yet to be enacted into law, the Department of Justice currently operates the Elder Justice Initiative. This initiative provides resources for victims and the legal and medical professionals who assist them. This initiative also provides important resources for state and local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, including sample pleadings and references to relevant state statutes covering crimes against the elderly.
For additional resources on elder abuse generally, see FindLaw's Elder Abuse Overview and Dealing With Elder Abuse. For information on reporting elder abuse see FindLaw's Reporting Elder Abuse or the National Center on Elder Abuse.
If you are not sure where to start, contact an attorney to discuss the situation and what steps you need to take.