Predation and Abuse of Seniors

Elder Abuse Growing into a National Crisis

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Do you know what America’s “dirty little secret“ is? The hidden problem of elder abuse, according to the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL). Here’s what you should know about this serious social problem.

Elder abuse isn’t a new phenomenon.

But awareness of the problem is relatively new. One of the first public reports on elder abuse was published in a 1975 British Medical Journal paper, which described the occurrence of “granny battering” or “granny bashing.”

By the mid-1970s, America had awakened to reports and articles on battered and abandoned elders that were documented in professional literature. The initial response to these reports was disbelief and denial, which turned into public outrage as soon as elder abuse stories hit the mainstream media.

Elder laws and definitions can vary widely.

Each state has created statutory laws that address elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. These statutes can differ greatly.

Defining elder abuse would seem straightforward, but it’s not. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) states that definitions vary, the problem is mostly concealed, and what actions or inactions constitute abuse are hard to pin down.

In broad terms, elder abuse can be defined as “any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.”

Elder abuse is a complex problem.

The NCEA provides general categories of elder abuse. Domestic elder abuse is mistreatment toward an elder by a person in a trust relationship with him or her in a home setting, whereas institutional elder abuse is committed by a person who has a legal or contractual obligation to him or her in a residential setting.

Seven types of elder abuse are physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, neglect, abandonment, financial and material exploitation and self-neglect.

America’s growing elderly population is a contributing factor.

The older population is expected to rapidly grow between 2010 and 2050. U.S. Census Bureau data show that the number of seniors aged 65 and over will double, from 44.7 million in 2013 to 88.5 million in 2050. With the projected growth in the elderly population, the prevalence and incidence of elder abuse will likely increase.

Elder neglect is the most common type of abuse.

In a domestic setting, neglect is the most common type of abuse (55%), followed by physical abuse (14.6%), financial and material exploitation (12.3 percent), emotional abuse (7.7 %), sexual abuse (less than 1 percent), and other types of abuse (6.1 percent), as reported by the NCEA.

The extent of the elder abuse problem is largely unknown.

No one knows how many older Americans are victims of elder abuse. A conservative estimate says that every year about 2.1 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

For every one elder abuse case reported to the authorities, roughly five go unreported, according to NCEA prevalence data.

The number one risk factor for elder abuse is vulnerability.

Vulnerable older people are susceptible to the abusive behaviors of people who hold negative views toward elders.

Other risk factors for elder abuse and neglect include dementia and cognitive impairment, transgenerational violence, personal and financial problems of the abuser, and environmental conditions.

Elder abuse is usually perpetrated by someone the victim knows and trusts.

Family members were the perpetrators in about 90% of cases of domestic elder abuse and neglect, according to The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study.

Adult children are most often the perpetrators of elder abuse, followed by other family members and spouses, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Forty-two percent of murder victims over 60 were killed by their offspring, while 24 percent were killed by their spouses, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report.

Elder financial abuse can be just as devastating as other forms of abuse.

The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse revealed that older victims of financial exploitation lose about $2.9 billion annually.

The same study found that women were twice as likely to be victims of elder financial abuse, as compared to men. Most victims were aged 80 to 89, lived alone, and depended on others for medical or financial assistance.

Gender matters in the calculus of elder abuse.

Women are at greater risk to become an elder abuse victim during their lifetime, according to The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study.

Study results also found that women were the victims in 76.3% of cases of emotional or psychological abuse, 71.4 of physical abuse, 63% of financial/material exploitation, and 60% of neglect. Men were the majority of victims (62.2%) of abandonment.

Community-based organizations are available to assist victims and their families.

Should you suspect that a family member or a relative is being neglected, abused, or exploited, your first call should be made to Adult Protective Services (APS).

Other state resources to go for help include Area Agencies on Aging, Long-Term Care Ombudsman, law enforcement, legal services, and domestic violence programs.

Preventing and combating elder abuse is everyone’s responsibility. We can all do our part to create healthy and safe community environments for our elderly loved ones, relatives, neighbors, and friends.

‘I don’t know about normal love’: A church leader’s abuse and a woman’s years-long struggle

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Lauren Griffis is photographed in Nokesville, Va. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)


Lauren Griffis says she was groomed by a Virginia church youth leader from the time she was 11. The man crept into her life, forging bonds with her family before prosecutors say he sexually abused her multiple times at age 16.

Justice was swift. Two weeks after the physical relationship began, Lauren’s mother called police. The man was arrested in 2016, serving a year in jail for taking indecent liberties with a child as church leaders struggled to respond to a crisis in their congregation.

With a rise in clergy abuse cases coming to light in the #MeToo era, some church leaders are becoming transparent with congregants, rather than sweeping allegations under the rug. More than a dozen investigations of the Catholic Church were announced last year in the United States, with other scandals among Southern Baptists and evangelical churches.

Experts broadly agree on best practices for church leaders to come forward in abuse cases, but a lack of data and the historical underreporting of sex abuse in the church can make it difficult to know how to address it.

“This issue should never be behind us,” said Boz Tchividjian, executive director of the nonprofit Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment. “It should always be on our radar screen.”

Tchividjian, a former child abuse prosecutor and grandson of famed evangelist Billy Graham, founded GRACE to help churches respond to allegations of sexual abuse and prevent it from happening again. He describes fighting abuse as a “cultural transformation” in churches that could take generations.

The first steps to take when abuse is suspected or reported are clear, experts say: Church leaders should contact law enforcement rather than rely on internal investigations. Accused people should step down from positions of power. Despite Christian dogma to the contrary, victims and perpetrators shouldn’t necessarily reconcile, or be encouraged to.

Responsibility for handling abuse cases extends beyond church leadership. Experts say congregants should be prepared to support victims during a reconciliation process that might not have a tidy ending. They might also need training in how to prevent or report sexual abuse.

“Churches want an easy way out — watch an online video, take a quiz and, boom, you’re a safer church,” Tchividjian said. “That’s a false narrative.”

In 2010, the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe found himself looking for a way through one such scandal that some thought he never should have taken responsibility for.

Rowe, who is now the bishop of the Episcopal dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York, encouraged survivors to come forward with stories about his predecessor, who had abused girls as young as 10 over more than 20 years. Rowe said he was criticized for acknowledging the allegations, for which his diocese took hits to its reputation and its pocketbook.

The diocese repented and tried to do right by its victims, he said — while for those directly affected, it could never do enough. Rather than move past the scandal, he said it is “now an important part of who we are.”

“It can’t be the focus of our life and ministry,” he said, “but we must keep it in front of us.”

Greenwich Presbyterian Church in Nokesville, Va. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)

In Lauren’s case, her abuser was swiftly caught and convicted as her struggle with PTSD began. She reached a settlement with her Virginia church, but feels abandoned by a faith community she once felt part of.

“Every single thing in life comes back to Derrick,” said Lauren, 20. “I don’t know about normal love. . . . It’s just ruined everything for me.”

Derrick Ryan Trump came to Greenwich Presbyterian Church near Nokesville, Va., in 2010 and was named director of youth ministries. Then in his early 20s, Trump planned Sunday school classes, youth group meetings and mission trips. He often taught a church training course on sexual harassment, according to documents filed in Fauquier County General District Court in Virginia.

Trump, who didn’t respond to requests for comment, came to Greenwich at a difficult time in Lauren’s life. Her parents had recently separated.

“With my dad gone, I was left very vulnerable,” Lauren said. “I started talking to Derrick. Once a month, I’d meet him in his office. He slowly became a huge part of my life.”

In court documents, prosecutors said Trump kissed Lauren for the first time on May 17, 2016, at his Fauquier County home. That night on the phone, they discussed sex. Trump was 28. Lauren, 16.

The next day, Trump picked Lauren up at Panera Bread. He drove her to his house and sexually abused her, prosecutors said. Afterward, he dropped her off at Panera, where her mother picked her up. They attended church with the youth group that night “like nothing had happened,” according to court filings.

“Before they had sex, they discussed that what they were doing was wrong,” prosecutors wrote. “The defendant stated that he was willing to face the consequences for his actions.”

The secret didn’t last long. Within two weeks, the physical contact was over. Trump told Lauren he had “a sex addiction,” according to court documents; he told his wife and Lauren’s mother, Cherie, about their contact on May 27, 2016. Cherie was appalled and contacted police.

“I was in shock,” Cherie said. “It was like I was not even in my body.”

Trump was fired from the church. He faced criminal charges of taking indecent liberties with a child by a person in a custodial or supervisory relationship in Fauquier County, where he lived, and Prince William County, the location of the church. His home was searched, and bedsheets were taken as evidence. He was assigned a risk score indicating he was a lower-level sex offender, and in November 2016, he pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a child.

Trump’s attorney, Nadir N. Tawil, said it “looked like love” to his client, adding that Trump confessed to the crimes and apologized to Lauren and the church. “This destroyed him,” Tawil said.

In January, Lauren’s older sister filed a police report claiming Trump sexually assaulted her in 2014, two years before his arrest in Lauren’s case. Prosecutors declined to bring charges, saying the statute of limitations had passed.

At Greenwich Presbyterian Church and in the Griffis home, a cycle of anger, recriminations, denial and healing was about to begin.

‘We were being shunned’

Lauren Griffis and her mother, Cherie Griffis. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)

The family never returned to services. Lauren was discouraged from going on a mission trip, she said. As the Griffis family tells it, some church peers stopped speaking to her, unfriended her on Facebook and told her that she “ruined” the youth group.

“It was clear we were being shunned,” Cherie said.

Lauren said she felt compelled to speak out, worried the congregation might think of her as the “other woman” in a “love story” with a married man when she was the victim of a sex crime that resulted from failures in Greenwich’s leadership.

The church didn’t respond to specific claims the Griffis family made, but said in a statement that Greenwich “remains attentive to the profound impact that our former youth director’s sexual abuse has had upon Lauren.”

The statement continued: “As Lauren tells her story, we pray it will deepen her own healing journey and that her courage will help other victims of sexual abuse find hope and strength. From the beginning of this sad ordeal we have expressed transparency and confidentiality. Out of respect for Lauren and her family, we remain circumspect in offering public statements. We continue to stand with Lauren and all survivors of sexual abuse, and pray for the end of this scourge upon the broader church and society.”

As Trump’s case wound through the legal system, Lauren attended Camp Cadi, a week-long summer camp for young survivors of sexual abuse, in Dallas, Ga.

Amy Barth, a therapist and sexual abuse survivor who founded the camp in 2005, said the focus is on giving girls “ the childhood they lost at the time of the abuse.” Mornings are devoted to therapy, and afternoons are like “regular camp,” she said.

“It’s harder to heal when you’re older,” she said. “The more skills we give them — coping skills, the knowledge that other girls experience the same things — we get them grounded, and it’s less likely they will have the same level of PTSD.”

Lauren said she left the camp with “a very different mind-set.”

“I am realizing everything that happened to me and everything that church did and didn’t do to protect me,” she said. “I said, ‘I want to hire a lawyer.’ ”

She called Pennsylvania attorney Nate Foote, who represents crime victims, including survivors of sexual assault.

Lauren’s case caught his eye because he is originally from nearby Manassas, he said. He also thought the case was viable: Greenwich was an institutional defendant, and Trump an admitted abuser.

Lauren Griffis and her therapy dog, Paddington. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)


Lauren said she had asked for $350,000 and a public apology. She got a private apology and $40,000, after costs and fees. She got a new car. She got Paddington, her PTSD dog, who cost $2,000 and an additional $3,000 to train.

Soon, the money was gone and Trump was out of jail, living a few miles away. Without her old church and her friends, Lauren had to find her own way forward.

‘Preach it on a Sunday’

After Trump’s arrest, the Griffis family expected to return to friends, family and their church community. It didn’t feel that way.

“Very few people have spoken to me over the past couple of years, but when they have, it has been nothing but disrespect, re-victimizing, shaming, concern for Trump or asking why I’ve acted the way I have,” Lauren wrote in an email. “None of them protected me, and what’s worse is, no one supported me after it happened.”

Don Meeks, Greenwich’s pastor, grappled with whether Lauren should address the Greenwich community about her abuse. Trump had abused Lauren on his watch.

“None of us knew what we were looking at,” he told Lauren and her mother as they sat across from him at a Virginia Starbucks. During the meeting, which was attended by a Washington Post reporter, he called the abuse “part of a broken world we live in.”

Lauren invited The Post to the meeting, saying she wanted a reporter to witness Meeks’s atonement.

After the lawsuit, he was the one who privately apologized to Lauren for the abuse she suffered at the church. This was a new era, he said — a “#MeToo, #ChurchToo” era in which allegations against powerful men had raised awareness about sexual assault.

“I’m paddling as fast as I can to catch up,” he told Lauren. “You’re feeling you are silenced. That was never my intention. I’m in a tight spot as a leader. . . . I’m not asking for your sympathy; I’m asking for your understanding.”

Lauren thought she should come to church and tell her story.

“I’d love you to preach it on a Sunday morning,” she told Meeks.

During the meeting with Meeks, Lauren said church parishioners “look at me like I’m the other woman. I need some way to express my side of the story.”

Greenwich Presbyterian Church in Nokesville, Va. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)

Meeks said the story was alive at Greenwich. Policies had been reviewed. He was meeting with church elders to discuss it. He needed time to educate others as she was educating him.

“My commitment from the beginning has to be — and this is not to get in front of the story — is to tell the truth,” he said.

Before Meeks left the coffee shop, he told Lauren and Cherie the conversation would continue, if they wanted it to. Lauren and Cherie haven’t been back to church, a place Lauren says triggers symptoms of PTSD after her experiences.

“If you never want to talk to me again, I get that,” Meeks said.

Breaking years of silence

The Rev. Ashley Easter, grandchild of two pastors of a Baptist church, said she knows what it’s like to leave a church behind. She was taught that “women were to be in submission” and said she was sexually harassed by a Christian author as a teenager.

“It wasn’t until I was 21 — when I was introduced to equality for women from a biblical perspective — that it helped me break free from this toxic patriarchal ideology, to come to grips with the ways the patriarchy influenced abuse I experienced,” she said.

Now ordained through the Progressive Christian Alliance, a network of liberal Christians founded in 2008, Easter is the founder of an annual conference for sexual abuse survivors. Abuse should be a regular sermon topic, she said, noting that one-third of women and one-sixth of men experience abuse.

“It should be a normal part of church,” she said. “I think an ongoing conversation is something every church should have whether or not they had a big scandal. We talk about missions all the time. There’s no reason we can’t talk about people who have been hurt.”

Christa Brown , a survivor of sexual abuse who has written about sex crimes in Baptist churches, said those abused in faith communities face “an extra dimension of spiritual harm.” Prosecution is rare, and even when perpetrators go to prison or churches offer recompense, it might not help victims, Brown said.

“It’s a soul-murdering kind of offense,” she said.

Lauren has jobs as a dance teacher and an assistant for a real estate agent, but “triggers are everywhere,” she said. She’s working toward a bachelor’s degree online, uncomfortable with communicating with professors in person. She rarely goes anywhere without Paddington, and she doesn’t sleep much. She can’t have an intimate relationship, she said.

Even prayer makes her think of Trump.

“She’s not comfortable with prayer,” Cherie said. “Derrick ruined it for her.”

Her PTSD can be a problem at work, at school — in any situation involving physical contact or involving a man. It doesn’t help that her abuser shares a surname with the president of the United States.

She can imagine a time when she can advocate on behalf of victims of sexual assault. The legal system dealt with Trump while keeping her an anonymous victim. Church members dismissed and excluded her, she said, and wouldn’t listen to her or her family.

“I wanted my voice to be heard,” Lauren said. “Everyone got a voice. I did not.”

Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

Financial Abuse of the Elderly: Sometimes Unnoticed, Always Predatory

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Mariana Cooper, 86,with her granddaughter, Amy Lecoq, 39. Ms. Cooper was bilked out of much of her savings by someone she considered a friend.


It was only after Mariana Cooper, a widow in Seattle, found herself with strained finances that she confessed to her granddaughter that she was afraid she had been bilked out of much of her savings.

Over three years, Ms. Cooper, 86, had written at least a dozen checks totaling more than $217,000 to someone she considered a friend and confidante. But the money was never paid back or used on her behalf, according to court documents, and in early November the woman who took advantage of Ms. Cooper, Janet Bauml, was convicted on nine counts of felony theft. (She faces sentencing on Dec. 11.)

Ms. Cooper, who lost her home and now lives in a retirement community, is one of an estimated five million older American residents annually who are victimized to some extent by a caregiver, friend, family member, lawyer or financial adviser.

With 10,000 people turning 65 every day for the next decade, a growing pool of retirees are susceptible to such exploitation. As many as one in 20 older adults said they were financially mistreated in the recent past, according to a study financed by the Justice Department.

Traditionally, such exploitation, whether by family, friends or acquaintances, often has been minimized as a private matter, and either dismissed with little or no penalty or handled in civil court.

Even when the sums are large, cases like Ms. Cooper’s are often difficult to prosecute because of their legal complexity and because the exploitation goes unnoticed or continues for long periods. Money seeps out of savings and retirement funds so slowly it draws attention only after it is too late.

Ms. Cooper, for example, wrote her first check, for $3,000, in early 2008, and later gave Ms. Bauml her power of attorney. In early 2012, after Ms. Cooper realized that Ms. Bauml was not going to repay her in time for her to afford a new roof for her house, she told her granddaughter, Amy A. Lecoq, about the checks. She later called the police.

Ms. Bauml maintained that Ms. Cooper gave her money for services she provided as a home organizer or as loans.

Later, testing by a geriatric mental health specialist found that Ms. Cooper had moderate dementia, which showed her judgment had been impaired.

The diagnosis “helped the jury to understand why she would keep signing all these checks to this woman as loans when she was never being paid back,” said Page B. Ulrey, senior deputy prosecutor for King County, Wash., who pressed the case against Ms. Bauml.

The case was challenging in part because Washington State does not have an elder abuse statute, said Ms. Ulrey, who is one of a small but growing number of prosecutors around the country with the specific duty of prosecuting those who take financial advantage of elders, whether it is connected to investments, contracts or other fraud.

As the number of complaints grows, more municipalities are trying to combat such abuse, which is often intertwined with physical or sexual abuse, and emotional neglect.

Some organizations also have set up shelters, modeled on those for victims of domestic abuse. In the Bronx, for example, the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale started such a shelter in 2005. Since then, 14 other such shelters have been opened in various long-term care operations around the country to deal with urgent cases of financial abuse.

One such woman, who agreed to talk only if she was not identified by her last name, stayed at Riverdale after she was threatened with eviction. A neighbor discovered that the woman, a 73-year-old widow named Irene, had not paid her rent in six months because relatives living with her had been withdrawing money from her account and leaving her short of funds.

“I had to leave with one small suitcase,” Irene said. “They were abusing me.”

She was later able to move to federally subsidized housing away from the abusive situation.

Scammers using pandemic to target elderly during the pandemic | COMMENTARY

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Known as the “silent crime of the 21st Century,” elder financial abuse is an increasingly complex problem. Every year, thousands of cases of financial exploitation of older and vulnerable adults are reported in Maryland alone, and only about one in 44 cases is ever reported to authorities, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association.

What’s worse: Every day, criminals become more sophisticated in their efforts to fleece seniors of their hard-earned money. The average victim of elder financial abuse loses upward of $120,000.

In many ways, the COVID-19 health crisis has created a “perfect storm” for swindling. Consumers in the U.S. have lost millions to coronavirus-related fraud this year, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network. And Maryland ranks among the states with the most fraud reported relating to the pandemic, according to a new Expert Insurance Reviews study. Since January, Marylanders have filed more than a thousand fraud reports to the Federal Trade Commission.

This trend suggests scammers are seeking to exploit the fears and uncertainty triggered by the pandemic. While anyone can be an easy target if not prepared, predators are pouncing at the opportunity to take advantage of “high risk” seniors who are preoccupied with avoiding the potentially deadly virus.

Although the reason behind their fraud is new, their tactics are familiar. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch scam coronavirus treatments while others employ fake emails or text messages to steal valuable personal information, under the guise of contact tracing. Some are using this major health event to create fake charities that take advantage of the generosity of older adults who may be looking for ways to financially support those affected by the pandemic. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also warned about an increasing number of nonsense scams related to vaccines and test kits for COVID-19.

Because social distancing and quarantine have limited the opportunities for older adults to interact with their support systems, caregivers, and communities, it can be even harder to prevent falling prey to these scams or know that they may be happening to someone you love.

We must work together to protect our greatest generation and provide them with the tools necessary to stop these nefarious crooks in their tracks. This month, we’re asking you to join us in helping to protect older Marylanders from financial fraud and abuse.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, observed Monday, will kick off Maryland’s annual PROTECT Week (Protecting Older Americans from Financial Exploitation), held June 15-21, and will bring older adults, their families, and caregivers opportunities to learn about the under-reported, shameful and often preventable crime of elder financial abuse and exploitation.

Financial exploitation occurs when a person misuses or takes the assets of a vulnerable adult to benefit themselves. This frequently occurs without the explicit knowledge or consent of an older or vulnerable adult, depriving the victim of vital financial resources.

Providing families and caregivers with resources to recognize the signs of abuse and know whom to contact in case of suspicious activity is key to preventing this fraud. The PROTECT Week website ( provides a free content hub of interviews, articles and other resources for consumers focused on preventing and protecting against the financial exploitation of older Americans.

The weeklong campaign — now in its third year — is led by CCCSMD (Consumer Credit Counseling Services Maryland) in partnership with AARP Maryland, and made possible by a collaboration of public and private partners who share a common goal of preventing and remedying financial exploitation of older Marylanders, including the Maryland Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation, Maryland Department of Aging, Maryland Department of Human Services, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, EverSafe, ElderSAFE, CHANA Baltimore, Baltimore County Restoring Elder Safety Today — BC REST Coalition, and Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition.

If you or someone you know are targeted by a scam, call the Department of Justice National Elder Fraud Hotline at (833) 372-8311. AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams with its free “watchdog alerts,” scam-tracking map, and toll-free fraud helpline at (877) 908-3360. The Attorney General’s Office, Consumer Protection Division also offers a hotline, (410) 528-8662.

Robert Hur ( is U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland; Brian Frosh ( is Maryland Attorney General and Peter Franchot ( is Maryland Comptroller. Helene Raynaud (, president of CCCSMD, and Hank Greenberg (, the Maryland State Director for AARP, also contributed.