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Regarding Elder and Vulnerable Adult Abuse


Photo by Gill Penney, courtesy of Creative Commons.

A vulnerable adult is defined by law as:

  • a person over the age of 60 who lacks the functional, physical, or mental ability to care for him or herself;

  • a person 18 or older with a developmental disability;

  • a person 18 or older with a legal guardian;

  • a person 18 or older living in a long-term care facility (an adult family home, boarding home or nursing home);

  • a person 18 or older living in their own or family's home receiving services from an agency or contracted individual provider.

  • According to the best available estimates, between 1 and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection.
    ( Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation in an Aging America. 2003. Washington, DC: National Research Council Panel to Review Risk and Prevalence of Elder Abuse and Neglect.)
  • 84% of elder abuse is committed by the elderly victim’s relative, most often the victim’s adult child.
    - (U.S. Administration on Aging)
  • Estimates of the frequency of elder abuse range from 2% to 10% based on various sampling, survey methods, and case definitions.
    - (Lachs, Mark S, and Karl Pillemer. October 2004. "Elder Abuse", The Lancet, Vol. 364: 1192-1263)

Physical abuse of a vulnerable adult is the willful infliction of physical pain or injury, that is not done in self-defense. It often results in injuries such as bruises, welts, burns, lacerations, and broken bones. However, such acts need not result in injury in order to be considered physical abuse.
Neglect of a vulnerable adult is the failure of a caretaker to provide the care necessary to avoid physical harm or mental anguish to the vulnerable adult. It includes failure to provide proper food, clothing, medical treatment, medication, and hygiene.

Some commons signs of neglect of a vulnerable adult are:

  • dehydration

  • malnutrition

  • untreated bedsores

  • lack of proper medication and/or medical treatment

  • inadequate hygiene

  • overgrown hair and nails

  • unclean clothing and bed linens

Financial abuse is the improper taking or misuse of the money or property of a vulnerable adult for the benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult.

Sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult is the infliction of non-consensual sexual contact of any kind on that person.

However, in many situations, victims of sexual abuse are deemed by the State of Washington to be incapable of giving consent to sexual contact. Some examples of these situations are:

  • victims who are physically helpless or mentally incapacitated;

  • victims who are developmentally disabled where they are not married to the perpetrator and the perpetrator has supervisory authority over them;

  • and frail elder or vulnerable adults who are not married to the perpetrator but who do have a significant relationship with the perpetrator.

In these cases, consent to the contact by the victim is not a defense.

If you suspect that a crime against a vulnerable adult is occurring or has occurred, you should do two things:

1. Report the crime to the police by calling 911; and

2. Report the crime to the Washington State abuse hotline: 1-866-EndHarm (1-866-363-4276).

Washington state law requires that all:

  • CDSHS employees,

  • law enforcement officers,

  • social workers,

  • professional school personnel,

  • individual providers,

  • employees and operators of care facilities,

  • employees of social service, welfare, mental health, adult day health, adult day care, home health, home care and hospice agencies,

  • medical examiners,

  • Christian Science practitioners,

  • and health care providers

Call 911 and DSHS immediately if there is a reason to suspect physical or sexual assault of a vulnerable adult or if there is reasonable cause to believe that an act has caused fear of imminent harm.  Further, if they have reason to believe that abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect of a vulnerable adult has occurred, mandated reporters must immediately report to DSHS.

RCW 74.34.035

King County Prosecutor
Dan Satterberg
Read Dan's Biography


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