The effort is being called the Southwest Virginia Joint Senior Abuse Task Force. The first meeting of the task force will be held on Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. at the University of Virginia's College at Wise. June 15 is recognized as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The event will feature a roundtable discussion of community leaders, law enforcement, prosecutors, adult protective services workers, legislators, representatives from financial institutions, and other community partners.
Commonwealth's Attorney Chuck Slemp said, "Creating this task force was one of the promises I made to the voters in 2015 while seeking the position of Commonwealth's Attorney. I remain committed to protecting our community's most vulnerable, especially seniors. As a prosecutor, I see numerous cases of abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. Far too many of these cases involve victims who are older or incapacitated adults. Yet, these matters are significantly underreported and extremely difficult to successfully prosecute."
Seniors make up the fastest growing segment of the population in Southwestern Virginia. As the population grows, so too are the number of crimes and scams targeting older adults.
Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 1922 which was signed by the Governor on March 13, 2017. The new law takes effect on July 1, 2017. It mandates that all cases involving suspected financial exploitation of an adult, regardless of the amount of loss, shall be immediately referred to a local law-enforcement agency for investigation and directs that local law-enforcement agencies provide a preferred point of contact for these referrals. In Wise County and the City of Norton, Slemp hopes that these referrals will be directly made to his office for a coordinated response among varying agencies.
Delegate Terry Kilgore, who will be speaking on Thursday and voted in favor of HB1922 during the 2017 General Assembly Session, commented, "We owe a duty to seniors who have given so much to our communities and we are committed to doing all we can to safeguard them from exploitation."
According to statistics from the Virginia Department of Social Services, elder abuse affects an estimated five million people each year, as few as one in twenty-four cases of elder abuse is reported to authorities, and roughly half of people with dementia are abused or neglected by caregivers.1
Slemp hopes this meeting will be the beginning of a new focus on bringing justice to exploited adults. Slemp said, "We need to do more to protect our seniors. We hope that this task force will increase communication between different state agencies, collaboration of resources, new legislation to strengthen our response, and find ways to break the barriers to successfully investigating and prosecuting those who abuse, neglect, and exploit vulnerable adults."
Members of the press are encouraged to attend.