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Bill Expands Definition Of Elder Abuse, Adds Penalties

State lawmakers are considering an act to protect South Dakota seniors and adults with disabilities from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Senate Bill 54 adopts recommendations from the Elder Abuse Task Force.


Emotional and psychological abuse of elders or adults with disabilities is not criminalized in South Dakota. Senate Bill 54 changes that. It makes willful, malicious, and repeated infliction of sexual acts, unreasonable confinement, damage of property, or ridicule or harassment a class one misdemeanor.

Victoria Walker is a family practice doctor who served on the Elder Abuse Task Force. She says it’s important to expand the definition of abuse.
“In my experience of a family doctor I’ve unfortunately seen the consequences of grave harm that was inflicted without ever laying a hand on a victim, and I expect that you have also seen this in your lives,” Walker says. “This legislation proposed by the Task Force will close a current loophole, and allow prosecution of perpetrators of this type of abuse afflicted on elders and adults with disabilities.”
The bill also creates a civil right of action for abused adults and elders with disabilities. South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Steven Zinter chaired the Elder Abuse Task Force. He says Senate Bill 54 allows for restraining orders against abusers.
“They can be restrained from exercising control over an elder’s funds,” Zinter says. “They can be required to return custody of property funds, that type of thing, and they can be ordered to require the perpetrator to follow the direction of a guardian or conservator that has responsibility with respect to the elder.”
He says the court can prohibit abusers from transferring funds, benefits, or property belonging to the elder. 

The measure also directs the State Bar of South Dakota to create training materials for people appointed as guardians and conservators.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are waiting to receive a jail impact statement before voting on the bill.