A neighbor had been hearing the elderly woman next door for weeks, screaming “Help me!” Not wanting to get involved, the neighbor did nothing. Finally, the incessant pleas overcame his lack of concern and he called the police.
Officers from my department arrived to investigate and soon uncovered an ugly truth. The elderly woman had been living a nightmare in which her caregiver had been assaulting and raping her for a period of months if not years.
What a hellish existence it must be when the only person you can turn to for help is your tormentor.
Abuse of the elderly, the infirm and disabled has been getting a lot of attention lately. Because this criminal activity is rarely seen in public, much less reported (as evidenced by the above recent incident), so the current discussion in prosecutor’s offices and news agencies can only help to educate people on the plight of victims who have no means to defend themselves.
A recent Trib article, which continued an ongoing report on the death of a vulnerable adult, highlighted the need for new legislation on elder abuse.
David Vernon was described as a developmentally disabled man who lived, and died, in a group home here in Tacoma. The purpose of the home was to keep Vernon safe, and in the midst of a heat wave, this equated to staying cool. Left alone in his all but closed up room, with an inoperative fan and no air conditioner, Vernon died–his body temperature several minutes or more after his death was 107 degrees.
How different is the method of Vernon’s tragic than, say, an infant left in a hot car? On a lesser note, I have come upon enraged adults yelling at careless pet owners upon their return to hot animals in parked cars. I’ve even written such irresponsible jerks a ticket.
If we agree–and we had better agree on this–that we owe vulnerable adults more consideration than our animals, then someone needs to be held accountable when a human being is simply left to die, unprotected in a dangerous environment.
The problem appears that the only current applicable code that could have been charged in Vernon’s death has too high a threshold. It stipulates that the mistreatment must be intentional. If such is the case then we simply need better law. We need a code that mandates responsibility for group homes like the one Vernon counted on for his safety and well-being.
Negligence killed David Vernon, and somebody needs to be held accountable.