Violence Against Older Women and the Elder Justice Act

I join many hundreds of advocates in commending Congressional passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA). When President Obama signs it into law, it will mark the successful end of a difficult legislative process.

At the same time as I laud the passage of VAWA, I lament the failure of Congress and the Administration to fund the Elder Justice Act as we approach its third anniversary of becoming law. This law seeks to commit resources to the fight against elder abuse which disproportionately claims older women as its victims. The reality is that the average victim of elder abuse is a woman between 75 and 80 living alone. Today in America, nearly 50 percent of older women now live alone. They need the protections provided in the Elder Justice Act including dedicated funding for Adult Protective Services (APS) which is our front line in preventing elder abuse and aiding its victims. VAWA does provide some funding for programs which specifically help women over 50, but they are not nearly enough -- a mere $9 million per year compared to the $777 million over four years authorized in the Elder Justice Act.

The Elder Justice Act has other provisions which would protect victims of elder abuse in addition to dedicated funding for APS. It establishes an Elder Justice Coordinating Council to make recommendations to the Secretary of HHS on the coordination of activities of federal, state, local and private agencies and entities relating to elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. It also establishes a 27-member Advisory Board on Elder Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation, which has not yet even been selected. It would provide money for long-term care ombudsman programs, which prevent abuse in long-term care settings. Finally, it also would provide money for further data collection and data coordination on elder abuse, which is key to tracking and stopping abuse before it starts.

Today, one in ten persons over 60 is a victim of elder abuse. Victims of elder financial abuse lose close to $3 billion a year. It is a national tragedy much the way child abuse and violence against women is a national tragedy. Forty years ago, child abuse prevention legislation was passed and has been funded. The 1994 Violence Against Women Act has now been renewed with a new commitment for funding.

Let us show the same commitment and compassion to victims of elder abuse and fund the Elder Justice Act this year and by doing so strengthen our resolve to prevent violence against women--especially older women. 2013 has been declared by the Administration for Community Living within HHS to be the Year of Elder Abuse Prevention. If there was ever a time to prevent violence against older women, it is now.