The effort - headlined “Tennessee Is Talking About Elder Abuse” - uses testimonials to encourage community dialogue and, ultimately, to increase reporting of abusive situations.
“With our elderly population growing each year, increasing the awareness of and taking actions against elder abuse has become more important than ever,” said Gen. Weirich. “Stopping elder abuse will take the best efforts of all of us, and this awareness campaign aims to sound the alarm.”
Mirroring national trends, Shelby County’s 65-and-older population increased 18 percent between the 2010 census and July of 2015 when elders in the county totaled more than 113,000 of the county’s 938,000 total population.
Two years ago the Memphis Plough Foundation contributed $3.4 million to fund anti-elder abuse programs.
“People can be hesitant to report elder abuse because it’s embarrassing,” said Renee Bouchillon, Adult Protective Services Program Director. “But, reporting elder abuse is the right thing to do, and it is the lawful thing to do. Preventing elder abuse can be as simple as picking up the phone, whether that’s to check in on a neighbor or file an anonymous report.”
TNDAGC received funds from the Tennessee General Assembly in 2016 to combat elder abuse statewide by training prosecutors and other law enforcement professionals, and producing public awareness resources.
“Protecting vulnerable Tennesseans, especially the elderly and incapacitated, is a priority,” said Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who was the prime sponsor of the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act which passed during the recent legislative session. “It is important that the state continue to support this work, and I appreciate the support of our District Attorneys.”
The training – a three-day, multidisciplinary seminar attended by prosecutors, criminal investigators, victim witness coordinators, DHS staff members and others in the statewide law enforcement community – was held in November of last year.
Once the training was complete, TNDAGC began work on the project’s public education component.
Printed materials, digital graphics and short videos feature Bouchillon, Tennessee Voices for Victims co-founder Valerie Craig and Amy Nix, whose mother was a victim of financial abuse, to share warning signs associated with different forms of elder abuse ranging from physical to financial and neglectful abandonment.
Legislative action in 2016 and 2017 by the Tennessee General Assembly created more tools for prosecutors to fight elder abuse. In 2016, another law sponsored by Sen. Norris was enacted with TNDAGC’s support establishing Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Teams (VAPIT) in each of the state’s 31 judicial districts.
The teams foster information-sharing between government agencies tasked with protecting the elderly.
This year’s General Assembly produced legislation classifying financial crimes against the elderly as theft. The classification allows authorities to better define, discover and put a stop to financial exploitation of the elderly.
“Last November’s training laid the foundation for the work we are now doing to educate the public about elder abuse,” said Gen. Amy Weirich. “Our next challenge will be to secure funding for victim witness support staff. When victims come forward, we must be confident that we have adequate levels of support staff in place to see them through this sensitive process.”
Tennesseans can visit www.tndagc.org/ElderAbuse to download materials and find District Attorney contact information, and can visit www.facebook.com/TNDistrictAttorneys to join the conversation.
Tennessee state law requires reporting of suspected abuse of a vulnerable or elderly adult. Call 1-888-APS-TENN (277-8366) or visit https://ReportAdultAbuse.dhs.tn.gov to make an anonymous report.
TNDAGC was created by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1961 to provide for a more prompt and efficient administration of justice in the courts of this state. It is composed of the District Attorneys General from the state’s 31 judicial districts. The District Attorneys General are elected for terms of eight years and are responsible for the prosecution of criminal cases on behalf of the state. www.tndagc.org
The Tennessee Department of Human Services is responsible for administering numerous services throughout Tennessee, including Families First, the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, Food Stamps (known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP), Child Support, Child Care Licensing, Child Care Assistance, Adult Protective Services, and Rehabilitation Services. With 133 office locations, DHS is one of the few state agencies with offices in all 95 counties. www.tn.gov/humanservices
Tennessee Voices for Victims seeks to create a statewide support network to help victims of crime unite their voices, navigate the criminal justice system, connect with direct service providers, and become advocates for themselves and other victims. www.tnvoicesforvictims.org