PACIFIC COUNTY — Statewide reports of adult abuse are on the rise, according to a recent report by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.
However, Pacific County officials say there isn’t an upward trend here.
In 2017, Pacific County had 202 adult abuse investigations. Grays Harbor County had 1,059 cases, according to the DSHS.
Vulnerable adults are identified as those individuals who can’t provide for themselves due to age, disability, disease or developmental disorders, according to the Washington State Office of the Attorney General.
‘Always an issue’
Despite state rates of adult abuse increasing, both Pacific County Prosecutor Mark McClain and Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright said they haven’t seen an increase in Pacific County cases.
“There hasn’t been a change. We have a steady population of elderly people,” Wright said. “[Adult abuse] is always an issue.”
Both McClain and Wright said adult abuse cases often involve caregivers or family members.
The most common form of adult abuse is financial exploitation, which makes up about a quarter of all investigations. DSHS investigated a total of 10,713 financial exploitation investigations in 2017. This rate is about twice as high as what was seen in 2012.
Oftentimes, financial exploitation is difficult to do something about because the adult either doesn’t want to be a victim or doesn’t realize they’re a victim, Wright said. Victims often are manipulated into doing something that isn’t criminal, which makes proving a case difficult to do, he said.
According to DSHS, some signs of financial exploitation include unauthorized withdrawal of funds, abrupt changes in financial documents and bills going unpaid even though the victim should have enough money to pay them.
“Even with thousands of cases of adult abuse in a year, we know that for every investigation, many others go unreported,” the DSHS report states. “In addition, as our state’s population of people who are older continues to increase, the potential for adult abuse increases.”
An older population
Pacific County’s median age is 53, according to a recent Economic Development Council study. This is far higher than the state’s median age of 38, indicating Pacific County residents are older, and possibly more vulnerable to elder abuse.
McClain said that while elder abuse has been more widely reported because of changes in the law, that doesn’t mean it occurs more frequently than before. DSHS finds the increase in reports and investigation reflects an “improved awareness of adult abuse among the public.”
According to the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, signs of elder abuse may include unexplained injuries; excessive fears; sudden inability to pay bills and purchase essential items; changes in appetite or unusual weight change; poor personal hygiene; unawareness of personal finances; and unexplained changes in health.
Elder abuse is an issue in every community, especially for those with limited connections or family involvement, McClain said.
“Older people want to maintain their independence, but that can come at a cost, especially when they are too prideful or fearful to acknowledge someone has stolen from them,” McClain said.
“They fear admitting to a theft because it was ‘their fault’ or that reporting it may compromise their independence so [elder abuse] is often reported too late to prosecute or fully investigate.”
McClain suggests preventing adult abuse by staying involved in the adult’s finances, knowing who they spend time with, limiting the number of open credit accounts, monitoring accounts for unusual activity, and transferring valuable items before the adult is unable to make knowing decisions about their belongings.
Wright suggested having conversations with aging parents and grandparents as soon as possible. He also suggested choosing who can have access to the family member as much as possible.
“A lot of times I’m amazed at who a family member would trust,” Wright said. “Be aware of who is helping them.”
Those who suspect abuse of adults are asked to make a report by calling 1-866-363-4276 or going online at www.dshs.wa.gov/altsa/reportadultabuse. Reports are confidential and can be received anytime of day.