World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15, 2023. If communities can better understand elder abuse, folks can be better equipped to recognize it and take steps to prevent it. Elder law attorneys are in close proximity to seniors and are in a unique situation to oftentimes observe signs of elder abuse. However, are attorneys allowed to report such abuse?
What is elder abuse?
Elder abuse can take many forms – physical, emotional, sexual, or financial. The National Council on Aging states that about one in 10 American seniors aged 60+ have been the victim of elder abuse and in about 60% of incidents, the bad actor is a family member of the individual being abused. Look for signs such as physical marks and bruises, being withdrawn or depressed, and sudden changes in the senior’s financial situation. Click here for a state-by-state chart regarding types of abuse defined in state statutes.
Can attorneys report elder abuse?
Under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney can report abuse if the victim gives consent. If the victim has the capacity to give consent to the reporting and does so, an attorney can then report the abuse to authorities. The elder law attorney can walk through the next steps with the individual and help them get into a safe situation.
If the client is unable to give consent or refuses to do so, the next step for the attorney is to see if they are in a mandatory reporting state. A mandatory reporting state means that there are state statutes that require the mandatory reporter to report the abuse. Some state statutes only require medical professionals to be mandatory reporters. Other states (such as Arizona and Ohio) dictate that attorneys are also mandatory reporters.
If the attorney is not in a mandatory reporting state, the next step is to see if they are in a permissible reporting state, meaning the attorney may report the abuse under state statutes. The bottom line is if the victim doesn’t give consent to report the abuse to authorities, check state statutes to see if there are any mandatory or permissible laws on point. Here is a good chart that summarizes each state’s statutes regarding mandatory and permissible reporting.
In some cases, where the victim doesn’t give consent to the reporting and there aren’t state statutes that require or allow the reporting, an attorney cannot ethically report the elder abuse. While this can be a tough position for the attorney to be in, there are ethical rules in place to protect a client’s autonomy and honor a client’s wishes regarding their own representation.
How can I bring awareness to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day?
Wear purple! Purple is the color associated with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Dress in the color and hand out purple ribbons to friends, family, and staff. Use purple in social media posts when bringing awareness to elder abuse.
Also, talk to colleagues, clients, and associates about the importance of recognizing elder abuse. Talk about the signs to look out for, the options for reporting, and how to help clients build a good network of family and friends who will look out for them.