Family and friends once cherished the warm and giving qualities that made 87-year old Clarence James and his 67-year old wife, Lillian, the perfect couple. However, those admirable qualities, they often extended to strangers, seven years ago made the Bartlett pair the perfect fatal targets for a predatory serial killer Henry Lee Jones.
Kathryn Coulter of the Mid-South Aging Commission noted on Tuesday, "The senior generation that is being targeted right now were brought up to be very polite people. So, they're not very good at hanging up the phone or closing the door."
The vulnerability of senior citizens to the ravages of crime from outside forces and within their own families was the focus of the second annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day seminar held at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis.
Representatives of the religious community and government agencies along with Memphis and Shelby County law enforcement authorities spoke of the need to educate and assist seniors to help them avoid being potential victims of crimes. These crimes often go unreported due to two major emotional factors.
Bill Gibbons, Shelby County Attorney General observed, "A feeling of embarrassment by an elderly person who may have been taken advantage of and their reluctance to report it. A second factor is fear of reporting it because many times this exploitation of an elderly person is by a family member."
Mid-South Aging Commission executives Doris Ivey concurred with Gibbons adding, "This family value that the elderly hold so dear. That to think that their caregiver, those loving hands are also abusive hands sometimes and that's just physical abuse."
While statistics compiled by the National Center on Elder Abuse, the results suggest that one in 14 criminal incidents in a domestic setting ever get to the attention of authorities. A large number of them are between the one to two million cases of victims over 65. Often these incidents emanate from being bilked out of their money by outsiders, everything from shady contractors to fraudulent mail solicitations.
However, local law enforcement agencies say they have programs to promote the safety of senior citizens, upon request, through personal communication and legal avenues if any action is deemed necessary.
Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell explained, "Our volunteers are trained to watch for certain indicators. Watch for personal hygiene; look for sanitation within the living residence. They'll look at the general health of the person they visited and they'll report to the one who's interested."
Larry Godwin, Memphis Police Director firmly declared, "If someone would just call. If a nurse goes in, if a caregiver goes in, we will look at it. We're going to investigate it!"
A seminar devoted the goal of making the system work for seniors rather than abandoning them at a time when the venerable are at their most vulnerable.