Monday, October 19, 2009

Women More Often Victims of Financial Elder Abuse

In the United States, elderly women are particularly susceptible to financial abuse. According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, “the average victim of elder abuse is a woman over the age of 75 who lives alone.” Although the organization concedes that reports vary as to whether men or women are more vulnerable to financial abuse, loneliness and isolation increase the victim’s exposure to theft. In addition, it is estimated that two-thirds of victims of elder abuse are women. On average, women live five to ten years longer than men. Coupled with the fact that many elderly women in the United States were economically dependent upon their husbands due to their traditional role as caregivers and wives, it is not surprising that elderly women may feel particularly vulnerable to financial abuse.

However, this vulnerability is not merely the result of economic dependence, but also financial pressures on the abusers that they in turn exert upon the senior population. For example, in India, the sudden increase in the value of homes has led some abusers to prey upon the elderly. According to Kapitol Kall, a representative of HelpAge India, “Most of the senior citizens of Delhi are asset rich and cash poor . . . They offer themselves as a very, very easy object for crime, particularly related to property.”

A notable illustration of this problem is the story of Lautica Sakaa, once one of India’s most distinguished attorneys who is known as the “mother of feminist jurisprudence.” Although she has no memory of the event, she apparently deeded her home to Nomal Dondiale, an inspector general in the Indian state of Bihar. He claims that his wife took care of Ms. Sakaa for four years and that the deed was repayment. Many of Ms. Sakaa‘s old friends do not believe Dondiale’s story, and are shocked that such a powerful woman could have fallen prey to financial abuse: “How could Lautica Sakaa have got herself into such a position, a lawyer of great eminence who fought for other people's rights all her life?”

However, the increase in elder financial abuse is not solely caused by the increase in the value of Indian homes. Rather, while financial constraints on abusers increase the likelihood that they will abuse, more elderly women are being abused because they lack support systems that will protect them from the abuse. In a Country Report to the World Health Organization submitted by HelpAge India, “Financial abuse was linked largely with people of the lower middle income group especially women. An older woman in the present day India scenario has traditional role[s] given to her as a care giver in a largely patriarchal society, with no financial independence and if she happens to be a widow that is the case of 55% of the women above the age of 60 years in India, then the world may not be a very nice place to live.”

Ms. Sakaa’s story demonstrates that there is a need for institutional support for the elderly around the world. During economic downturns there is often an increase in elder financial abuse. In Michigan, one of the states hardest hit by the economic downturn, the number of instances of financial elder abuse has quadrupled since 2000. “And as Michigan continues to sink into an economic chasm, senior citizens are a prime target for such abuse, social service workers say.” While the rest of the economy is flailing, seniors have a fairly steady stream of income through Social Security payments and pension payments. However, without protections, their income only serves as a target for abusers. More needs to be done to protect seniors from financial elder abuse, and these protections must do more to uncover the underlying causes of some elderly persons’ vulnerability.

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