Image of no elder abuse sign courtesy Shutterstock

Today, June 15th, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. I discussed the importance of this day of awareness-building and action with Marci Phillips, the Director of Public Policy at the National Council on Aging (NCOA). In addition to her policy work with the U.S. government, Marci also reaches out to local advocates to ensure that vulnerable older adults have their voices heard by lawmakers. NCOA partnered with WITNESS in 2009 to produce the video An Age for Justice. The video played an important role in the passage of the Elder Justice Act in the United States.

WITNESS: What is the main focus this year’s awareness day?

Marci: The U.S. Administration on Aging named 2013 the Year of Elder Abuse Prevention and they are calling upon all of us (individuals and organizations) to take a stand against the silent crisis of elder abuse and protect seniors on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (or WEAAD) 2013.

What are three things about elder abuse that you’d like older people and their families to know?

  1. At least 5 million seniors are subjected to abuse, neglect or exploitation each year, but one study showed that only 1 in 15 incidences was actually reported.
  2. Financial abuse alone costs seniors and society nearly $3 billion annually and we can’t get Congress to fund the Older Americans Act.
  3. Help is available! If you suspect elder abuse, please contact the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 to find out how to get help.

NCOA and WITNESS co-produced a video called An Age for Justice a few years ago. How has the video been used in NCOA’s advocacy efforts? And how are you encouraging people to use the video for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day?

An Age for Justice and the dozens of videos captured by local advocates around the country gave voice to the silent crisis of elder abuse by enlisting seniors to tell their own stories, in their own words. Leaders fighting elder abuse also recorded statements urging Congress to take action by finally enacting the Elder Justice Act (as part of Healthcare Reform in 2010).

The stories of constituents were shared with members of Congress to enlist their support, a Hill briefing was organized to screen the videos for Congress and their staff, and perhaps most importantly, the dissemination of the videos in action alerts and through social media channels compelled advocates to join the cause and contact their Representatives and Senators urging them to take action.

We continue to urge the use of An Age for Justice and its screening kit to help raise awareness about elder abuse, with a annual focus on marketing these resources for events organized around WEAAD.

What progress have you seen enacted as a result of that legislation pass? And what more remains to be done?

Although the EJA was enacted, we continue to face an uphill battle to secure funding for all the provisions in the legislation. Due to the leadership and commitment to elder justice of Kathy Greenlee, Administrator of the Administration for Community Living and the Assistant Secretary for Aging, initial investments have been made that:

  • provided grants to identify innovative prevention initiatives,
  • created a National Adult Protective Services Resource Center,
  • and convened the Elder Justice Coordinating Council. The Council brings together federal agencies to identify common efforts to address elder abuse and help create new solutions.

There are also a number of other pieces of legislation that still need to be enacted. For example, legislation to enhance efforts at the Department of Justice and enlist the financial community in preventing financial exploitation.

How can Americans, young and old, use video and social media to continue the conversation and surface solutions, to elder abuse in this country?

Shame, isolation and other barriers continue to make elder abuse a silent crisis. People young and old can provide safe environments to discuss what elder abuse means and what can be done to combat it. Video can give voice to the issue and amplify stories so that others can benefit from seeing the bravery of those who were willing to speak up, and recognize the incidence of abuse and neglect in people just like them.

Social media continues to be an important tool to not only make storytelling, but also the tools and actions to effect change, accessible to anyone. You just have to be willing to speak up and demand justice.

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