Elder Abuse

There are over 40 million people age 65 or older in America, and this number is growing rapidly according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. As the Baby Boomer generation ages and the number of older adults in America increases, it will become all the more important to be aware of the warning signs of elder abuse.

What is elder abuse?

According to the Department of Justice, elder abuse refers to “a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.” The legal definition of elder abuse, and the definition of who counts as an “elder,” can vary from state to state. Elder abuse can occur in many different settings, including nursing homes and senior living centers, but the majority of reports of elder abuse occur at home, according to the Department of Justice.


Some forms of elder abuse include:

  • Abandonment
  • Emotional abuse
  • Exploitation or financial abuse
  • Neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse of elders

Sexual abuse of an elderly person occurs when a perpetrator engages in any kind of sexual contact without the person’s consent. Some victims of sexual abuse are unable to give consent due to health conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. The laws about consent as they relates to medical conditions vary from state to state.


Some warning signs of sexual abuse include:

  • An elder's report of being sexually assaulted or raped
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area
  • Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
  • Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding
  • Unexplained venereal disease or genital infections

Why is elder abuse underreported?

Many states have laws about mandatory reporting for elder abuse. You can learn more about the laws in your state from the RAINN State Law Database. Even with mandatory reporting laws, elder abuse is believed to be an underreported crime. Some of the reasons that elders may not report include:


  • Being unable to report, due to physical or mental ability
  • Depending on the abuser for care and basic needs
  • Fearing retaliation from the abuser
  • Fearing that reporting the abuse will end with them being placed in an institution
  • Feeling ashamed to tell someone that a loved one is hurting them or taking advantage of them
  • Having concerns that the report will get the abuser in trouble — this can be especially true if the abuser is someone that the elder is close to or cares about
  • There are also times when sexual abuse or assault is reported but isn’t taken seriously because of the victim’s age or assumptions about their mental capabilities.

If you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, you can report it. Find the reporting number for your state by using the National Center on Elder Abuse State Resource Database or call 911.

Remember, if you notice or experience assault, you are not alone. To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

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