Aging Population, Heroin Epidemic Bring More Cases Of Elderly Abuse
The population of people over 60 is rising, and so are the numbers of cases of elderly abuse, a problem the state has been struggling to deal with and try to prevent.
Elder abuse can be physical, emotional or financial, and while more than 13,000 cases were reported in Ohio during the last fiscal year, some experts estimate the real numbers could be over a hundred thousand. And for the victims, it’s humiliating, soul-crushing and catastrophic.
Ramona Wilson knows all too well.
The 83-year-old woman runs a Christian outreach mission from her Columbus home, and tells a story of meeting a younger man named Charles Sellers in her church in 2005. Within months they had married, and he started taking money from her.
When he went missing in 2006, she didn’t know what to do, so she called the police. That brought to her door David Kessler, who knocked on her door and asked if she had time to make him a cup of coffee so they could talk.
“I was thinking, come on, let’s drink this coffee, I’ve got things planned.," Wilson says.
"I had two cars running in my garage, and my plan was to go out and kill myself,” Wilson said. “God sent him in right at the nick of time. Had it been five minutes later, I would not have answered that door. It’s a devastating time and had Dave Kessler not came at the moment that he came, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. I’m grateful to him. I owe him my life.”
“And what you’re hearing here is so, so unique," says Kesler, "because our victims suffer in silence.
"She would have suffered in the ultimate silence – she would have taken her own life,” Kessler said. “And it’s so powerful to have an elderly person come out and say, ‘You know what? I’m not stupid, I’m not dumb. You shouldn’t blame me for my victimization.’ You wouldn’t blame a sexual assault victim for their victimization. You wouldn’t blame a homicide person for their victim. We don’t blame that small child for their victimization. So why would you ever blame this wonderful lady for marrying someone and that relationship was all based on fraud to get into her bank account?”
Charles Sellers was eventually caught and prosecuted, and ordered to prison and to pay Ramona Wilson more than $14,000 in restitution. But he’s been released and has left the state. How much has he paid her back? “Six dollars,” Wilson said.
The elder abuse unit David Kessler worked for in the AG’s office was dissolved several years ago, and Kessler is now with the Fairfield County Prosecutor’s Office, but he also operates a website called protectingtheelderly.com.
He says 90 percent of the cases he works on involve elderly victims being scammed by people they know and trust, and with the state’s heroin and prescription painkillers at epidemic levels, elderly people are easy targets.
“In our society, what group of people historically have their homes paid off, have nest eggs, get monies in every month from Social Security or pensions?” said Kessler. “And then what grandmother would be willing to say, ‘You know what, Mr. Kessler? It’s my grandson. Go ahead and investigate him and put him in the penitentiary.”
The AG’s office says it has an elder justice initiative that seeks to educate seniors, caretakers, and family members about elder abuse, and can work with local officials to investigate and prosecute scammers when they’re found.
The budget that passed the House has $3.5 million per year for elder protective services, which includes about $30,000 for each of Ohio’s 88 counties. But advocates say that’s not enough to hire a full time caseworker or investigator, so they’re working with Senators to try to get that increased.