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Prosecuting Attorney's Office

Daniel T. Satterberg

King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office
King County Courthouse, Room W554
516 Third Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104-2362
(206) 296-9000

 

Elder and Vulnerable Adult Abuse

Commonly Asked Questions

Photo showing a older woman outside pruning a flowering shrub.  Photo showing a woman hugging her elderly mother.

 
Who is considered a "Vulnerable Adult"?

A vulnerable adult is defined by law as:

  • a person over the age of 60 who lacks the functional, physical, or mental ability to care for him or herself;

  • a person 18 or older with a developmental disability;

  • a person 18 or older with a legal guardian;

  • a person 18 or older living in a long-term care facility (an adult family home, boarding home or nursing home);

  • a person 18 or older living in their own or family's home receiving services from an agency or contracted individual provider.

 
How common is vulnerable adult abuse?

  • According to the best available estimates, between 1 and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection.
    - (Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation in an Aging America. 2003.  Washington, DC: National Research Council Panel to Review Risk and Prevalence of Elder Abuse and Neglect.)

  • 84% of elder abuse is committed by the elderly victim’s relative, most often the victim’s adult child.
    - (U.S. Administration on Aging)
  • Estimates of the frequency of elder abuse range from 2% to 10% based on various sampling, survey methods, and case definitions.
    - (Lachs, Mark S, and Karl Pillemer. October 2004. "Elder Abuse", The Lancet, Vol. 364: 1192-1263)

 
What is considered physical abuse of a vulnerable adult?

Physical abuse of a vulnerable adult is the willful infliction of physical pain or injury, that is not done in self-defense. It often results in injuries such as bruises, welts, burns, lacerations, and broken bones. However, such acts need not result in injury in order to be considered physical abuse.

 
What is neglect of a vulnerable adult?

Neglect of a vulnerable adult is the failure of a caretaker to provide the care necessary to avoid physical harm or mental anguish to the vulnerable adult. It includes failure to provide proper food, clothing, medical treatment, medication, and hygiene.

 
What are some common signs of neglect of a vulnerable adult?

Some commons signs of neglect of a vulnerable adult are:

  • dehydration
  • malnutrition
  • untreated bedsores
  • lack of proper medication and/or medical treatment
  • inadequate hygiene
  • overgrown hair and nails
  • unclean clothing and bed linens
 
What is financial abuse of a vulnerable adult?

Financial abuse is the improper taking or misuse of the money or property of a vulnerable adult for the benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult.

 
What is sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult?

Sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult is the infliction of non-consensual sexual contact of any kind on that person.

However, in many situations, victims of sexual abuse are deemed by the State of Washington to be incapable of giving consent to sexual contact. Some examples of these situations are:

  • victims who are physically helpless or mentally incapacitated;
  • victims who are developmentally disabled where they are not married to the perpetrator and the perpetrator has supervisory authority over them;
  • and frail elder or vulnerable adults who are not married to the perpetrator but who do have a significant relationship with the perpetrator.

In these cases, consent to the contact by the victim is not a defense.

 
Who should I call if I suspect a crime against a vulnerable adult is occurring?

If you suspect that a crime against a vulnerable adult is occurring or has occurred, you should do two things:

1. Report the crime to the police by calling 911; and
2. Report the crime to DSHS:

  • Call 1-800-562-6078 if the crime occurred in a boarding home, an adult family home, or a nursing home. (King County DSHS)  Calls are accepted during normal business hours.  You can leave a message after business hours.
  • Call 1-866-221-4909 if the crime occurred anywhere besides a boarding home, adult family home, or a nursing home.  (Washington State DSHS)  Calls are accepted during normal business hours.  You can leave a message after business hours.

When in doubt, please report.

 
Who is required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect of vulnerable adults?

Washington state law requires that all:

  • DSHS employees,
  • law enforcement officers,
  • social workers,
  • professional school personnel,
  • individual providers,
  • employees and operators of care facilities,
  • employees of social service, welfare, mental health, adult day health, adult day care, home health, home care and hospice agencies,
  • medical examiners,
  • Christian Science practitioners,
  • and health care providers

call 911 and DSHS immediately if there is a reason to suspect physical or sexual assault of a vulnerable adult or if there is reasonable cause to believe that an act has caused fear of imminent harm.  Further, if they have reason to believe that abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect of a vulnerable adult has occurred, mandated reporters must immediately report to DSHS.

RCW 74.34.035