According to a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau report, Atlanta’s elderly population grew 20 percent from 2010-2014, which was greater than the average increase of 11.3 percent across all major metropolitan areas in the U.S. To this day, the number of elderly people in Georgia continues to grow. With the elderly population increasing, the issue of elder abuse has become more of a problem, especially for Georgia law enforcement.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) has found that 20 percent of Georgia residents fall under the elderly or disabled category, with 10 percent of those at-risk individuals being victims of either financial exploitation or physical abuse.
GBI’s Director, Vernon Keenan, calls elder abuse “an iceberg crime” as “you only see a small part of the criminal activity and the rest remains out of sight and hidden.”
In response to the growing population of elders, coupled with the growing issue of abuse, the Georgia GBI has made elder abuse one of its top priorities.
Kathy Floyd, the executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging, says that elder abuse “has been going on in the dark for a number of years, and we’re finally paying attention to it and starting to address the issue.”
Georgia Still Has No Elder Abuse Registry in Place
The Associated Press reports that although there has been a statewide focus on elder abuse, there is still no elder abuse registry in place in Georgia — unlike the two leading states that are best tackling the issue, Tennessee and New Hampshire.
GBI’s assistant special agent in charge of at-risk adult abuse, Heather Strickland, says that a registry would be helpful for Georgia residents who need to make important decisions on who could best care for their loved ones. Abuse experts who have been huge advocates for an elder abuse registry say that the registry would operate very similar to how child and sex offender registries work.
“Say your mom needs someone to come in and do some work on her house,” Strickland said. “It would be nice to have a database where someone could go in it and see if (a person) who knocked on her door, if [they] had ever been convicted of financial exploitation or abuse or neglect of an older person.”
Wendall Willard, a state representative from Sandy Springs who introduced a 2015 bill that tightened elder exploitation laws, says, “There is an institutional concern. Unfortunately a lot of people don’t have family institutions they can call on to help them out.”
The Council on Aging has been strategizing about an elder abuse registry for two years now, and a bill is expected to be introduced during the next legislative session to finally institute a registry. Lawmakers have previously discussed the possibility of setting up an elder abuse registry during the last legislative session, but the timing did not work out as it was too late in the year for anything to be fully implemented.
An elder abuse registry could have possibly saved the life of Edna Warren, a 98-year-old woman who was reportedly abused by her caretaker in Newnan, and later lost her life at the hospital. Director Keenan says the “perpetrator that we arrested… had been arrested the previous year for abusing an elderly person in another home. He’d been arrested and had left that job and had been hired in another facility.”
Recent Efforts To Prosecute Elder Abuse Have Been Positive
The GBI hired 8 new agents to focus solely on cases of elder abuse two years ago. Those agents now work with a task force and travel around to educate other officers on how to properly identify elder abuse and exploitation. Police officers are also more familiar with elder abuse laws, as they were shifted into the criminal code by Georgia legislators in 2013.
Keenan says that with more training, more cases are exposed, and that law enforcement has rescued elderly people who could’ve died without their intervention.
From 2010-2016, the amount of yearly charges made against Georgia residents for crimes related to elder abuse increased more than fivefold. According to the GBI, there were 366 charges issued in 2010, compared to 2,082 charges in 2016. The data shows gradual yearly increases in the number of elder abuse charges made by law enforcement in Georgia alone.
The chairman of the North Georgia/Cobb Elder Abuse Task, Jason Marbutt, compares today’s elder abuses issues to child abuse cases in the 1980’s: “They existed, but it wasn’t part of the common vernacular. We didn’t talk about it.”
Georgia law enforcement and legislators are continuing to make elder abuse issues a priority to ensure that this marginalized population no longer gets taken advantage of.