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AARP and law enforcement officers call on lawmakers to strengthen Iowa's elder abuse laws

 Anthony Carroll, the advocacy manager at AARP Iowa, has called on lawmakers to strengthen Iowa's elder abuse laws.
Natalie Krebs
Anthony Carroll, the advocacy manager at AARP Iowa, has called on lawmakers to strengthen Iowa's elder abuse laws.

Groups advocating for older Iowans are calling on lawmakers to strengthen the state’s laws on elder abuse, as the number of reports for dependent adult abuse have increased during the pandemic.

According to the state Department of Human Services, the number of reports of dependent adult abuse increased 37 percent from the first half of 2020 to the second half of 2021 to 5,800 reports.

In general, around half of those reports are rejected by DHS.

"Now to be clear, the rejection by DHS of the majority of those cases, is not an indictment of DHS – or indication - it's not doing its job. It's an indictment on the gap of our state laws," said Anthony Carroll, the advocacy manager at AARP Iowa.

Carroll said DHS is limited because of the narrow definitions of dependent adult abuse in current state law.

“The alleged victim is a dependent adult, a narrow definition that starts with someone aged 18 and plus," he said, "and the second part the alleged perpetrator has to be the narrow legal definition of a caretaker.”

It's hard to understand the extent to which elder abuse has increased in Iowa as DHS does not keep these specific statistics, Carroll said.

"We lack...clear data on the prevalence of elder abuse. Why? Because for our focus today, elder abuse itself, is not a crime in Iowa. It's impossible to measure a crime that does not exist in our code right now," he said.

The Senate passed a bill last session would set certain penalties and mandatory minimums for the abuse of a person age 60 or older.

Amanda Potter, an investigator with the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Office, said she's seen many older residents in her community targeted by scammers, often claiming they're helping family members.

"It doesn't just stop there. They are coached all along the way. They are coached to say, what to say, if they are questioned at any point along the scam," she said. "They are coached in what to say to law enforcement if any questions arise."

Potter said the new legislation would give law enforcement officers like herself more options to pursue legal action against those targeting older Iowans.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter