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Remarks of Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Event
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Washington, DC

       Thank you, Frances.

       It really is a pleasure to come together with colleagues from throughout the federal government, state and local governments, and the non-profit sector to highlight an issue that all too often is overlooked or underestimated.

       Cindy [Padilla] brilliantly characterized the enormous scope and grave importance of this issue. Our other speakers will undoubtedly provide even more detail and context. While the magnitude of the problem is undeniable, I'd like to point to a few concrete steps the Justice Department is taking to address elder abuse.

       Through our Office of Justice Programs, or OJP, we are providing groundbreaking research and practical tools for professionals working to prevent and reduce elder abuse. As Pat's story demonstrates, abuse can go undetected, or be disregarded even after it is discovered.

       We know that the best way to help our nation's seniors is by assisting the professionals who are dedicated to serving them. And we understand that the people in the field are busy - busy helping seniors.

       Since an unread study is useless, an unused training tool is a missed opportunity, and unreliable data is worthless, the Justice Department is working to make sure elder abuse professionals have tools that they can, and will, actually use. These are social workers, victim assistance providers, case managers, geriatric care managers, police officers, detectives, medical professionals, and so many others.

       Assisting seniors is part of their job description. For many of them, it is also a passion. Especially as the older adult population grows, they are a vital lifeline for a group of people whose concerns are often lost amidst the demands of young families and exhausted workers.

       They are helping seniors to not only manage but to also prosper in a world that often values young and fast over wise and thorough. Remarkably, they are fighting a largely silent crime where victims and perpetrators are often closely related, and even seemingly dedicated caregivers engage in abuse or neglect.

       While helping seniors thrive in a world that is sometimes callous about their needs and often frightening, these same professionals face their own challenges. Our current fiscal environment may leave them with tiny budgets and huge demands. They are asked to make tough choices, and they have little time for training or research. These are people who care deeply and want to learn more, so they can do more. That is where OJP comes in.

        Our National Institute of Justice, or NIJ, supports studies that shed light on the prevalence and detection of elder abuse. This information can help policymakers understand the scope of the problem and practitioners learn how to identify it.

       Two recent NIJ-funded studies of bruising provided clear definitions of normal bruising in elderly people, as opposed to bruising that is the result of physical abuse. Accidental bruises, the studies showed, are found in different places on the body, and tend to be smaller than bruises that result from abuse. The studies are already being put to work.

       A detective in California, faced with an elderly woman with severe bruising on her wrist, used the studies to help build a case against the woman's young grandson. While the woman initially claimed to be the victim of nothing more than a falling cereal box, she finally admitted her grandson's involvement. The studies provided a scientific basis for the detective's intuition and strong evidence for the prosecutor. The grandson was found guilty and a protective order was issued.

       Raising awareness about elder abuse is working, NIJ has found. In the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office, for instance, prosecutors have won several high-profile cases thanks in large part to the help of victim-witness advocates.

       I spent years in the D.C. U.S. Attorney's office, first as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and later as the U.S. Attorney for D.C. I loved having the opportunity to work on both local and federal crimes, and I appreciated the pioneering work of our victim assistance unit.

       A lot has changed since then, including awareness of the unique needs of senior victims. Seniors may face tough questions about their memories and reliability, and they may be scared or embarrassed to admit they were victimized. Working with a victim-witness advocate helps victims gain confidence, and consequently, credibility.

       Much of OJP's work to support victims is done by our Office for Victims of Crime, or OVC. OVC's array of publications, videos, training resources, and technical assistance is truly staggering. On the subject of elder abuse, OVC is funding the development of a training guide and DVDs on domestic violence in later life that will be released this summer. Using firsthand accounts, these customizable materials will help victim advocates, law enforcement officers, and other professionals learn from real victims. As we've just seen, these stories are as practical as they are emotionally powerful. The video content can also be easily adapted to fit the needs of different audiences.

       OVC is also overseeing the expansion of its existing training resources - to include orientation DVDs that will help law enforcement, court personnel, and community corrections officers understand elder abuse. By putting simple, practical tools in the hands of frontline providers, OVC is helping to make sure that seniors get the help they need.

       Finally, our Bureau of Justice Statistics, or BJS, works to enhance data collection efforts by building connections with professionals in the field. The information BJS gathers, analyzes, and publishes helps to set policies throughout federal, state, and local governments.

       Working with prosecutors, BJS is developing a data collection instrument that will allow them to use the information they already gather to better address elder abuse. BJS also is currently reviewing applications for grant funding that will support assessments of the records of Adult Protective Services Offices and law enforcement offices. This data will provide insight into which elder abuse cases are reported to law enforcement, which are not, and why.

       A study of data from law enforcement agencies, called Elder Abuse as Reported to Police, is also being developed and will be released in the fall. This report will paint a fuller picture of the scope of elder abuse and the profile of its perpetrators and victims.

       The Justice Department's researchers, experts, and statisticians all agree: elder abuse is a serious issue that warrants our attention. We also know that the most effective work to combat this problem is happening on the local level. That's why we're focusing our efforts on providing forensic tools that work for law enforcement officers, training tools that help victim assistance providers, and data collection tools that inform our understanding of the crime.

        The Justice Department stands with these professionals and will always stand up for our nation's older adults.

       Thank you for being here today, and for working with us to address elder abuse.

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