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Leaders Begin Elder Abuse Examination

South Dakota leaders are analyzing elder abuse. The Chief Justice of South Dakota’s Supreme Court David Gilbertson says the often hidden crimes of elder abuse are becoming bigger problems as more people age. All three branches of government are part of a task force trying to understand who is taking advantage of the state’s aging people, how they’re doing it, and what can be done to prevent and punish elder abuse.

Elder abuse takes many forms, but a discussion about money pierces Steve Mielke.

“I mean, just looking through the slides and what they’re discussing, I could just feel in the pit of my stomach of this is exactly, they’re talking about my dad,” Mielke says.

This year Mielke lost his father after a stroke, but it’s the time leading up to his death that brings Mielke to a conference about elder abuse.

“He had been with an individual for about two years, and we’d seen a steady decline in his spending time with the family and then how his funding and his financial situation had changed drastically – to where he had been selling some land and then how that money had all gone away and just basically had totally changed,” Mielke says.

This is not a unique story.

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
Paul Greenwood speaks to stakeholders regarding elder abuse in South Dakota.

Paul Greenwood is a Deputy District Attorney in San Diego, California. He leads a team to investigate and prosecute crimes against people older than 65.

“I’ve prosecuted realtors, clergy, lawyers – people in positions of power, of authority, and of trust over an elder who typically is very trusting and sometimes naïve and is then tricked basically or manipulated into handing over maybe a farm, maybe a house, maybe thousands of dollars in the form of ‘a gift’ or ‘a loan’ to the perpetrator,” Greenwood says.

Greenwood says aging populations are also vulnerable to physical abuse, mental abuse and neglect. He says law enforcement and community members need more education to recognize these crimes and stop them from happening.

Rebecca Wilson is a Sioux Falls attorney who helps people who are getting older craft plans that check against potential abuse. She says the plans include ways to flag abuse, but even then the problem is difficult to address.

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
Rebecca Wilson takes notes during the 2015 UJS Elder Abuse Conference. / July 20, 2015

“People don’t want to report. The person who’s been exploited doesn’t want to report," Wilson says. "They don’t want anyone to know that this happened in their family, that their child would take advantage of them in that way, and so you do have to kind of dig it out sometimes, because they are going to try to cover it up or dismiss it, keep it a secret."

National experts say physical, emotional, and financial abuse of the elderly is under-reported and under-prosecuted.

You can hear more from national elder abuse expert Paul Greenwood tomorrow on Dakota Midday. That program begins at 12 p.m. central time, 11 a.m. mountain on SDPB Radio.


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