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Forum deals with abuse of seniors
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Lisa Furr discusses abuse of the elderly Wednesday during a forum at the Spencer-Penn Center. (Bulletin photo by Paul Collins)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Lisa Furr gave a talk Wednesday on “Domestic and Sexual Violence in Later Life; What Is It and How Do We Respond?” But it was the three short videos of elderly people telling how they had been abused that brought the issue to life.

Furr spoke at a seminar sponsored by the Martinsville/Henry County Triad S.A.L.T. (Seniors and Law Enforcement Together) Council. Furr is project coordinator for the Central Virginia Task Force on Domestic Violence in Later Life, Virginia Center on Aging, at Virginia Commonwealth University.

In one video, “Pat” told of having been abused physically and verbally by her husband throughout their marriage, despite her kindnesses to him. She moved out a number of times but returned because of circumstances such as finances and poor health.

On one occasion in the video she was filmed when she was staying temporarily in a battered women’s shelter after her husband put a gun to her head and threatened to kill her. She subsequently moved back home, but later left again. She was filmed a second time at a shelter, saying she had to leave home for her sanity. She wanted to live someplace where nobody would physically attack her. On another occasion, she was filmed back at home living with her husband after he had suffered a stroke. In that video, he criticized her as putting her needs before his, and he demeaned her in other ways, saying she couldn’t add or subtract or do anything.

The video about “Miss Mary” began with her calling a 911 dispatcher to send police. “I’m hurt. ... There’s a maniac (in the house). ... Please help me. He’s hurt me. I’m bleeding,” she said.

Miss Mary, in her 90s, alleged in the video that a relative with whom she lived had raped her. Furr said Miss Mary also alleged that the relative’s girlfriend, who also lived with them, stole money from Miss Mary that the girlfriend was supposed to have used to pay one of Miss Mary’s bills. The relative whom Miss Mary accused of rape later was convicted, despite the fact that much of the family supported him, Furr said.

Some victims are overlooked and not believed, according to information at the seminar. It mentioned points about disbelief about elders being sexually assaulted; the victim having dementia or aphasia (loss of ability to understand or express speech) that prohibits him/her from reporting abuse; some reporting being discounted as psychotic or demented; forensic indicators often missed or misinterpreted on an older body; insufficient professional training; and insufficient response to allegations.

The video about “Norman” told how he was physically assaulted and injured by his two 40-something unemployed sons who lived with and off him. Norman’s wife sided with their sons. Though Norman brought charges, he dropped them. He didn’t want his sons to go to prison. Norman tried moving out for his safety but later returned home.

Furr said two fundamental principles to help elderly victims of abuse are to try to decrease the opportunity for abuse and to connect the victim to available resources. She showed a slide that said: “Take time to listen. Respect the individual. Understand how difficult this is. Support the victim’s decision. Tell the person help is available.”

For instance, Furr said Pat probably would have described herself as a caregiver, wife and mother. She may have felt she had made an oath before God and the community and that she was married for better or worse — in this case worse, Furr said.

In some cases, victims can be helped through such things as arranging meals for them through Meals on Wheels, connecting them with other people to help break their social isolation, or contacting the bank to allow for direct check deposit or bill paying so someone can’t steal their money, Furr said.

Furr also cited the need for longer-term housing for victims and survivors of abuse.

She explained that domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors used by one individual intended to exert power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate or family relationship.

Sexual violence is a conduct of a sexual nature that is nonconsensual and is accomplished through threat, coercion, exploitation, deceit, force, physical or mental incapacitation and/or power of authority, Furr explained.

She explained elder abuse is abuse, neglect and/or exploitation of an elder (age 60 or older) or vulnerable adult (younger adults who are physically or mentally incapacitated), and it includes self-neglect. These cases are handled by Adult Protective Services (APS).

She explained that “family violence in the second half of life” (age 50 and older) is a pattern of coercive control and abuse of an older person in a trusted, ongoing relationship. It involves primarily women, but not always. The basis is “power and control,” she said.

Furr showed a Virginia Department of Social Services report for fiscal year 2012 indicating the number of adult abuse reports in Virginia increased from 17,141 in 2010, to 17,936 in 2011 to 19,990 in 2012. Nearly 60 percent of the reports were substantiated all three years.

No local statistics were available.

She provided 2001 statistics from the National Association of Adult Protective Services (APS) Administrators, National Center on Elder Abuse. They showed that almost 90 percent of abusers were family members. “In the last decade domestic elder abuse reports investigated by APS have increased by more than 150 percent,” a slide stated. Furr added that people tell her that number is low.

Some common signs of adult abuse, neglect and exploitation include: burns, welts, scratches, bruises, cuts; fractures, dislocations, sprains; restrained, tied to bed or chair; mistrust of others; unsanitary or unsafe housing; inappropriate or inadequate clothing; malnourished. Other common signs are: lacks needed supervision; untreated medical condition; lacks needed dentures, glasses, hearing aids or medication; severe anxiety, fearfulness depression; personal belongings are missing; property or savings are mismanaged; sudden change in will or power of attorney; unpaid bills, according to a brochure from the Virginia Department of Social Services Adult Protective Services.

More than 30 people attended the seminar, which was at the Henry County Administration Building.

Stephanie LaPrade, president of the Martinsville/Henry Triad S.A.L.T. Council said: “It happens. Just be aware of domestic violence and abuse in older adults and report it.”


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