When a 78-year-old grandmother spends 15 days in jail for a crime she didn’t commit it makes me ask, “What is our society coming to?” Increasingly we’re reading more news stories on senior or elder abuse and mistreatment. Perhaps the problem has always existed and has been underreported, but now due to the large numbers of baby boomers who are aging the news media seems to have taken note. According to attorney Martha Ridgeway who represents the Colorado Gerontological Society and Senior Answers and Services, there will be 70 million older persons which will represent 20% of the population by the year 2030. Also according to Ridgeway, “two-thirds of all people who have ever lived longer than 65 years old are alive today.” What does all of this mean? It means that our senior population can no longer be ignored.
Someone should have told this to the authorities who held Gabrielle Shaink Trudeau in jail for 15 days for driving with a suspended license that wasn’t suspended. The 78-year-old Hallandale Beach grandmother who has no previous criminal record, was handcuffed and bound with chains around her waist like a violent criminal until County Court Judge, Lee J. Seidman, ordered her release. Some may ask, “Well, this was unfortunate, but was this really elder abuse?” You decide. According to the Miami Herald, Shaink Trudeau, who is impoverished, did not have adequate representation because two assistant public defenders who staff Broward County’s magistrate court failed to stand in for her during her initial appearance the morning after her arrest. Furthermore, she did not receive a visit from an assistant public defender during her stay in jail—and her story contains additional horrors— you can read the Miami Herald’s full story. So what is elder abuse? According to Senior Services Associates Inc., elder abuse is to unfairly take advantage of, exploit, impose, presume, physically harm or financially take advantage of any senior. Some states even include language in their laws that define elder abuse as any physical, financial or psychological harm imposed on a senior. Although Shaink Trudeau states that she wasn’t mistreated, according to the AGS Foundation for Health in Aging, elder mistreatment occurs when someone does something or fails to do something that threatens the health and welfare of an elderly person.
To his credit, Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein admits that the system failed and has directed several attorneys in his office to receive training in connection with this incident; however the attorneys will not be disciplined because Finkelstein states that there was no ill intent.
Those of us who research and teach on culture are looking to see whether the cultural dynamics within the United States will change as a large segment of its population ages. Will the culture of the U.S. evolve to reflect that of some Asian cultures which have traditional tended to revere their senior citizens? It will be interesting to see.
If you suspect that someone is suffering from elder abuse or mistreatment, contact your local social services office or your local law enforcement office.