As baby boomers continue to age, a renewed effort is launching to keep the elderly safe from abuse and fraud.
The Elder Rights Project offers free civil legal assistance to Wisconsin residents 60 years or older who are victims of abuse or crime.
Advocates said the problem is bigger than it seems. With one in nine Wisconsin seniors reporting being abused, neglected and exploited, only a small percentage of cases are reported. Lauren Hamvas, an Elder Rights Project lawyer, said no criminal charges, convictions or even a report to law enforcement is required to get legal help.
“We want to bring these folks out of the shadows and report it to us and tell us what happened and we can determine if they have a case,” Hamvas said of the expanded statewide service.
The Elder Rights Project website, www.legalaction.org.ERP has more information or people can call 1-844-614-5468 to talk with a lawyer.
Unlike other services, victims and their families can get Elder Rights Project service regardless of income or assets-it’s not just for low-income.
Cases can include physical, sexual and emotional abuse, stalking, harassment, neglect, identity theft and financial exploitation.
The Elder Rights Project can start the legal process to remove abusers from the home, and get protection orders and injunctions to keep the victim safe. ERP can also help recover stolen money and property, get public benefits and prevent evictions caused by abuse.
While the organization takes referrals from family and friends of the abused, Hamvas said the victim is the key focus.
“We work with the client so they can be in charge and make a decision as a victim of a crime to move forward and feel empowered,” Hamvas said.
The legal service is free and is funded by fines and fees paid by people convicted of crimes. There are offices in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, La Crosse, Oshkosh, Racine, and Wausau. If a victim can’t come to the ERP office, visits at home or another safe location can be set up. The Elder Rights Project is a joint effort of Legal Action of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Judicare.
There’s also a statewide push to focus on elder abuse and fraud.
State Attorney General Brad Schimel will start a Task Force on Elder Abuse this October to look at barriers in investigating and prosecuting elder abuse cases.
Schimel reports that in the next 20 years, the state’s 65 years and older population will increase by 72 percent and there could be a growing number of elderly crime cases.
“Sadly, this group is seen by criminals as vulnerable and easily exploitable,” Schimel said in a Monday press release. “With this rapidly growing population, we must act with urgency to protect our loved ones from becoming the target of financial, physical, emotional and sexual abuse.”
The task force will include the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, other state agencies and elderly advocate groups.
To report elder abuse at the county level, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website has contacts for Columbia County 1-888-742-9233, Dane County (608) 261-9933, Dodge (920) 386-3580, Jefferson (920) 674-3105 and Rock (608) 741-3555. If there is an immediate danger, people should call 911.