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AARP: Most Iowans Support Tougher Elder-Abuse Law


Friday, September 24, 2021   

DES MOINES, Iowa -- There is strong public support in Iowa to enact a state law that criminalizes elder abuse, a topic also being discussed by law enforcement and state agencies.

In an AARP survey this summer, 95% of Iowans said they want a law that clearly defines elder abuse as a crime, language currently not found in state statute.

The issue came up in a webinar this week, hosted by the Iowa State Bar Association.

Paul Greenwood, a retired deputy district attorney from the San Diego County Attorney's Office who handled elder abuse cases, said financial exploitation is a common form, but he sees too much hesitancy among authorities to pursue investigations.

"Because they have given the money to a suspect without force, without threats, without violence, the police officer will then regard that as being non-criminal," Greenwood explained.

But he pointed out by digging deeper, investigators often find falsehoods were used to solicit funds from a vulnerable person. He noted crimes also may go unreported because the victim is embarrassed.

A bill in the Iowa Legislature essentially creates a new criminal offense for financial exploitation and other harms against Iowans age 60 and older. It passed the Senate this year, but stalled in the House, although records show no stated opposition.

Advocates of the bill hope it is revived early next year, so it can clear its final legislative hurdle. In the meantime, certain state offices are rolling out enhanced efforts, including more adult protective staff within the Department of Human Services.

Greenwood argued education can help, too.

"I really do feel that local prosecutors have a duty to go out into the community as much as they can and actually spread the word," Greenwood urged. "Talk at Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis, Lions Clubs, at retirees' meetings."

He added it is a good opportunity to explain the many ways in which older people are taken advantage of, including by relatives or neighbors. And he agreed with local advocates in Iowa, state law needs more teeth to prosecute those who prey on older residents.

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