Senior citizens in Allegheny County will benefit from a new campaign being launched to bring much-needed attention to the critical issue of elder abuse. This initiative is a result of Verizon Wireless joining forces with Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala and several local crime victims organizations to create a public education campaign focusing on awareness and prevention of elder abuse among the county's senior citizens.
“The victims of elder abuse can be a parent, aunt, uncle, neighbor and friend. For years, these individuals have invested their time and energy into the fabric of this community, and it's only right that we give back that time and energy to help them avoid and prevent this type of abuse,” said Stephen Zappala, Allegheny County district attorney. “The service organizations of this county have shown in the past that when they band together, good things happen. I'm pleased to be partnered with all of these fine organizations and individuals, and I'm confident that we can make our community a safer place.”
The problem of elder abuse is on the rise locally, according to Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging, which provides programs and services that enable older adults to maintain their independence and have safe, healthy lifestyles.
“Allegheny County Protective Services received 1,465 reports of elder abuse during the fiscal reporting period of July 2, 2002, through July 1, 2003,” said Kurt Emmerling, bureau chief of safety services for Area Agency on Aging. “This number represents an increase of 11 percent from the previous year's statistics.”
Experts estimate only one in five cases of domestic violence against the elderly is reported, and some national studies indicate the ratio may be as low as one in 14. While neglect is the most common form of elder maltreatment, elder abuse can also include physical, sexual and emotional abuse and financial exploitation.
“Through this campaign, Verizon Wireless, which for many years has sponsored domestic violence awareness and prevention efforts, is hoping to bring a greater focus on a segment of domestic violence victims who often go unnoticed by the general public, live in fear of isolation and are the most vulnerable among us—the elderly of our community,” said Roger Tang, president–Ohio/Pennsylvania Region, Verizon Wireless. “We support this effort to prevent domestic violence, get victims to safety and help individuals rebuild their lives.”
The initial phase of the awareness campaign, underwritten by Verizon Wireless, will include posters and public information brochures distributed to a variety of locations frequented by seniors, including grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, doctors' offices, senior centers and places of worship. The educational materials highlight forms of elder abuse, typical signs of abuse and a 24-hour, free and private hotline for seniors who need help, simply want to talk about their situation, or want additional information about elder abuse. Contact numbers for the participating organizations that serve specific communities are also included.
Leaders from victim organizations offered several factors that may explain why many seniors in abusive situations do not seek help:
• They feel isolated and trapped.
• They have financial and physical limitations.
• They have been immersed in an abusive situation for years, if not decades.
• They do not wish to report a family member to authorities.
• They believe they have failed as a parent, “causing” the abuse to occur.
“So often, when we think of domestic abuse we think of a young woman and her children,” said Laurie MacDonald, executive director of Womansplace, a domestic violence shelter in McKeesport. “Unfortunately, abuse happens to people of all ages. Older people are often confused and embarrassed when they find themselves in an abusive situation. We want them to know that help is available and that they can once again feel happy and secure.”
Local organizations participating in this program include the Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging, The Center for Victims of Violence & Crime, Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, Crisis Center North, Alle-Kiski HOPE Center, Womansplace and Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.
Tang said the campaign to raise public awareness about elder abuse is the first step in helping abused seniors make their initial, critical call for assistance.
Organizations interested in receiving posters or brochures may email their requests to Laura.Merritt@verizonwireless. com.