ST. LOUIS, MO — Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless communications provider, has joined forces with area domestic violence groups in an unprecedented collaboration to create a public education campaign aimed at raising awareness of elder abuse and encouraging victims to seek help.
The education campaign was unveiled Tuesday at a press conference with St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis County Executive George R. "Buzz" Westfall, and leaders of several participating domestic violence organizations at the Women's Support and Community Services Center.
"Many people have the false impression that all victims of domestic violence are young women," said Mark Crumpton, regional president for Verizon Wireless. "As our awareness campaign says, 'Abuse Ignores Age.' It also ignores the boundaries of race, geography, religion or economic status."
The initial phase of the awareness program will include posters and public information brochures distributed to a variety of locations frequented by seniors, including grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, doctors' offices, banks, senior centers and places of worship. The educational materials highlight forms of elder abuse, typical signs of abuse, and a 24-hour, free and private hotline for those seniors who need help, simply want to talk about their situation or want additional information about elder abuse.
"Verizon Wireless supports domestic violence organizations and their efforts here in St. Louis, and around the nation, in a mutual effort to prevent domestic violence, get victims to safety and help individuals rebuild their lives," Crumpton said. "Now, we are hoping to bring a greater focus on a segment of domestic violence victims who often go unnoticed by the general public, live in fear of isolation and are the most vulnerable among us-the elderly of our community."
Crumpton cited national reports on domestic violence, documenting that elder abuse is "still largely hidden under the shroud of secrecy and is grossly under reported.*"
(*National Center on Elder Abuse, Washington, D.C.)
National and local data indicate that reporting of elder abuse has risen as much as 150 percent in recent years, and adult children are often the most frequent abusers of seniors. Victims nationwide number in the hundreds of thousands, and the St. Louis area has thousands of victims, most whose personal experience with abuse goes unreported. Experts estimate only one in five cases of domestic violence against the elderly are reported, and some national studies indicate the ratio may be as high as one in 14. While neglect is the most common form of elder maltreatment, elder abuse also can include physical, sexual and emotional abuse and financial exploitation.
"During 2002, 278 women over the age of 55 called our crisis hotline," said Barbara Bennett, executive director of Women's Support and Community Services. "We know these calls are just the tip of the iceberg. After enduring years of abuse, many older women feel as if they have no other options, and are-frankly-just waiting for their abuser to die.
"We appreciate Verizon Wireless' efforts to increase awareness of the problem of elder abuse, and we hope more women will call our crisis line as a result," Bennett said. "There are options and we'd like a chance to talk about them with any woman who is a victim."
Leaders of local domestic violence organizations offered several factors that explain why many seniors do not seek help with their abusive relationships:
- they feel isolated and trapped by their age
- they have financial and physical limitations
- they have been immersed in the abusive situation for years, if not decades
- they do not wish to report a family member to authorities
- they believe they have failed as a parent "causing" the abuse to occur.
"Whatever age, all women are entitled to dignity, personal safety and respect," said Mary Burns, project coordinator for the St. Louis Family Violence Council and chairperson of WEB: Women, Elderly and Battered Coalition. "In St. Louis, there are a growing number and variety of community resources committed to helping mid-life and older women who have been mistreated by loved ones. We have high hopes that this campaign will help stop the silent suffering so common among abused women."
According to Suzanne Lagomarcino, executive director of Older Women's League-Gateway Chapter, " It is never easy for an older woman to admit that she is being abused because societal pressures force her to remain silent."
Crumpton said the campaign to raise public awareness about elder abuse is "the first step in helping abused seniors make that initial, critical call for assistance."
Organizations that are interested in receiving the posters and brochures can email their requests to: AbuseIgnoresAge@GL.VerizonWireless.com.
About Verizon Wireless
Verizon Wireless is the nation's leading provider of wireless communications. The company has the largest nationwide wireless voice and data network and 34.6 million customers. Headquartered in Bedminster, NJ, Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) and Vodafone (NYSE and LSE: VOD). Find more information on the Web at www.verizonwireless.com.