Good afternoon, everyone! It’s my pleasure to join you all today.
I’d like to begin by thanking Silvia Torres on my team that is here with us today and a big thanks to Equal Justice Works and Justice in Aging for putting this together and inviting me to speak.
For more than three decades Equal Justice Works has guided law students and lawyers into public service careers, with a focus on fighting for equal justice for all Americans. We are so excited they are managing OVC’s Elder Justice Program.
The Elder Justice Program was born from a recognition that elder abuse has been a hidden epidemic for too long. In our 2019 report to Congress on elder fraud and abuse Attorney General Barr stated, "Crimes against the elderly are particularly despicable because they exploit and endanger citizens that are among our most vulnerable." I couldn’t agree more. As the global population of older adults increases, elder abuse is finally being treated as a crisis requiring our collective action.
At the Office for Victims of Crime, one of our focus areas has been serving victims of elder fraud. In the United States an estimated 5 million older adults are abused, neglected, or exploited each year and an estimated $3 billion dollars is stolen from America’s seniors annually.
In FY 2020, my office has committed $8 million dollars to enhance services to older victims of financial fraud. These funds will help support projects intended to improve victims lives, minimize additional trauma, and restore safety and security to older adult victims of abuse and financial exploitation.
I can tell you first hand that elder justice is one of Attorney General Barr’s top priorities.
Attorney General Barr was used as a lure in a scam a few years ago. His official Justice Department portrait from 1992 was uploaded to various websites. The fake persona was informing people that, as the former Attorney General, he had special access to government grants, and that if people sent him some money, he would tell them how to get a lot of money in exchange.
He started getting phone calls from people asking why they had not received their money. These were frantic calls. Some people were desperately hoping this was not a scam. Others who called were embarrassed, and wanted to let him know this was going on, and to know who they could contact for support.
So I know this initiative is something the Attorney General is passionate about.
In March, the Attorney General announced the launch of the Department's National Elder Fraud Hotline, which provides services to older adults who may be victims of financial fraud. The Hotline, managed by OVC, connects victims with experienced case managers who provide personalized support to callers. To date, they have received 1,800 calls, which demonstrates the strong need for such a service.
The Elder Justice Program represents another pillar of our efforts to combat elder abuse. We know that victims often require civil legal services to restore their sense of dignity, financial security, or even physical safety, yet relatively few lawyers are trained to provide effective representation to older victims.
The Elder Justice Program aims to address this pressing need for more legal aid to seniors by sending you all to legal service organizations nationwide. This will greatly increase access to justice for victims of elder abuse.
You all could not begin your work at a more important time. As you all know, older Americans are disproportionately affected by the Coronavirus pandemic – but their physical health is not all that is at stake. Isolated from loved ones just as online scams and other frauds are increasing, they are also more vulnerable to financial exploitation.
While the pandemic has also introduced new challenges for service organizations trying to reach vulnerable seniors. Some Fellows will serve victims in rural communities who already face a greater challenge in accessing legal assistance due to their geographic isolation and limited transportation options.
That is why I am so impressed by the creativity with which the Fellows have planned their outreach to older clients and I can’t wait to see how you implement your innovative approaches to reaching seniors and making a difference in their lives.
At the Office for Victims of Crime we are committed to doing all we can to ensure that older Americans experience a sense of security, peace of mind, and the support of their community.
Thank you for all you do to help victims of elder abuse and exploitation, and congratulations to the Fellows on the start of their fellowships!