Chris Oaks spoke with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Q: In recognition of Older Americans Month, your office recently announced the launch of a new Elder Justice Initiative. Explain this program.
A: Elder abuse is a growing problem, and not just in our state. It takes many forms, but often involves financial fraud. The other thing we know is that it’s a crime that is significantly under-reported.
So, what we aim to do is increase awareness and give victims a place to report these issues. The other part is to reach out to local law enforcement to let them know we’re here to provide resources they may need to prosecute perpetrators, such as forensic accountants and others with specific skills and knowledge that may not be readily available at the local level.
Q: Isn’t the biggest challenge in cracking down on this crime that part you just mentioned, getting it reported in the first place?
A: Absolutely. That’s why education is so important.
Often the victims themselves may have a diminished capacity and not realize they’re being victimized. In addition, the perpetrator is often someone close, such as a family member, that they either trust or, in some cases, don’t want to cause trouble for.
So not only are we going around the state speaking to seniors’ groups about this, we’re also speaking to others to send the message that it’s imperative you speak up if you believe a loved one may be being taken advantage of, even if you’re not the legal caregiver of this person, because the caregiver may be the abuser.
Q: But are the suspicions of a third party enough to launch an investigation? It would seem that by its very nature, this is a crime with brick walls that are often insurmountable.
A: And, unfortunately, sometimes that’s the case. But the more people who are aware and on the lookout for it, the harder it will be to conceal.
One of the other weapons that would be helpful is a bill currently under consideration in the state Legislature which would expand the scope of what are called “mandatory reporters.”
If, for example, a doctor or nurse observes signs of physical abuse, they are required by law to report that to law enforcement. What this bill would do is apply the same requirement to financial advisers, bankers, stockbrokers, accountants and so on — those who have access to financial records and information — to inform authorities if something is amiss financially.
Q: Are there, or should there be, more substantial penalties for committing these types of crimes against seniors, similar to the way hate crime legislation prescribes stiffer penalties based on the motivation of the crime?
A: In some cases, crimes are considered more serious when committed against senior citizens. Certainly, that’s an option the Legislature could continue to look at.
But I don’t think that’s the biggest problem. If we can get these crimes reported, and get the criminals in front of the judge, that’s what our goal should be.
Q: In addition to stepping up prosecution, the second part of your initiative is to help victims get the recovery services they need.
A: Exactly, we have advocates for victims in our office.
In some cases, particularly in cases of physical abuse, we may be able to help directly through our compensation fund. In other cases, we can work with agencies on the local level to help provide recovery services.
And, of course, we can work with law enforcement to put an end to patterns of behavior and try to get restitution to victims.
But, again — I can’t emphasize this enough — it all begins with education and awareness. I invite people to visit our website at ohioattorneygeneral.gov for more information.
“Good Mornings!” with Chris Oaks airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on WFIN, 1330 kHz. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 419-422-4545.
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