The paper examines theories on elderly persons' vulnerability to crime, institutional abuse, prevention strategies, and victim services for the aging.
Researchers have identified the elderly population as being more vulnerable to crime than other age groups because they are socially isolated, tend to live in urban areas, depend on public transportation, and follow predictable behavior patterns. The physical and mental weaknesses caused by old age also contribute to the visibility of a potential victim. Other theories claim that the elderly only become vulnerable to crime when they leave the protection of their homes, exposing weaknesses to persons with criminal intent. Contrary to popular belief, the elderly are the least victimized age group for the major index crimes but are disproportionately victimized for purse snatching. Burglary, robbery, and fraud are the crimes most frequently committted against the elderly. Older individuals placed in extended care facilities may be physically abused or defrauded of personal possessions by staff members. The failure of family and friends to visit patients frequently not only causes emotional suffering but also permits abuse to continue. Fear of crime is a major problem for the elderly and has increased over the last decade. This can be attributed in part to sensationalist reporting by the media which leads older people to perceive that high rates of crime exist when in actuality they may not. The increase in the numbers and militancy of the elderly population along with rising crime has forced the Government to fund victimization studies, prevention programs, and victim services. Most prevention activities include public edcucation, neighborhood watches, improved external lighting, provision of escort services, home security inspections by police, and public information on fraud schemes. Victim advocate programs which help the victim immediately after the crime and provide followup services could be adapted to elderly victims; only a few cities have programs specifically directed at older victims. All victim programs should offer comprehensive services ranging from transportation to counseling, give priority to victims' needs over the criminal justice system, and terminate help only when a victim has reasonable recovered from the incident. A bibliography of 25 references and a list of victim advocate projects are appended.
United States of America
Presented at the Southern Conference on Gerontology in Tampa, Florida on May 16, 1979.