Opinion: the Queens DA’s office needs a stronger Elder Abuse Prevention Unit

Betty Lugo is an attorney and candidate for Queens District Attorney. Photo courtesy of Betty Lugo.

Betty Lugo is an attorney and candidate for Queens District Attorney. Photo courtesy of Betty Lugo.

By Betty Lugo

Special to the Eagle

The Office of the Queens District Attorney needs to vastly improve its handling and protection of our elder citizens. Victimization of older adults is not just a crime statistic, but one that continues to increase in importance, as citizens retire in Queens and other boroughs.  

As of July 2018, 15 percent of Queens’ population is 65 years old or older, according to the US Census Bureau. This percentage amounts to 341,836 elderly Queens residents of a total of 2,278,906.

People age 65 and older experience the same crimes as the rest of the population, including financial victimization, neglect and physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. However, older adults may be less likely to recover from their victimization and are often sought out because of their age and decreased likelihood of reporting.

Researchers estimate that approximately 10% of older adults over age 60 experienced some form of elder abuse in the past year. 1) Studies have shown that crimes against older adults are highly underestimated.  

People with degenerative diseases or cognitive disabilities, including dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s; or who are living in institutional settings, such as nursing homes, are often not included in surveys.

Additionally, while studies demonstrate that older adults are most commonly maltreated by family members or acquaintances, roughly half of violent victimizations are perpetrated by strangers. (2) Maltreatment is not always a criminal offense, but the intimate nature of many of these victimizations means that older victims are less likely to report offenses committed by someone they know.

Older adults with dementia are at increased risk of physical and psychological abuse by a caretaker. (3)

Injuries to older adults from violent crimes account for more than $5.3 billion annually in direct medical care. (4)

Elder abuse triples the risk of premature death and causes unnecessary illness, injury, and suffering. (5)

Only 1 in 24 cases of elder abuse is reported to adult protective services or law enforcement. (6)

In 2014, 5.8 percent of people age 65 and older had experienced identity theft in the past year. (7)

On the rise in our elder communities is major financial crimes. (8)

Elder crime has been treated as a stepchild to the domestic violence and child abuse units, by the Queens District Attorney’s office.

The Queens District Attorney has a Major Crimes Division, which includes the Special Victims Bureau. The latter is charged with prosecuting, among other cases, all domestic violence, all child abuse and elder abuse matters.

What does this mean for the Queens elderly population? The Queens District Attorney must increase its Elder Abuse Division to reduce and prosecute such crimes and increase its Community Outreach budget for education and connecting our seniors to tailored elder community programs.

These programs must be made of up professionals from diverse backgrounds, communities and languages to service the diverse elderly population in Queens County.

The time for establishing a separate Elder Abuse Prevention Unit, is long overdue.

Betty Lugo is an attorney and candidate for Queens District Attorney.


1.        R. Acierno et al., “The National Elder Mistreatment Study,” Am J Public Health vol. 100, 2(2009): 292-97, (https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/226456.pdf)

2.       Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, Concatenated File, 1995-2015, (U.S. Department of Justice)

3.  A. Wiglesworth et al., “Screening for Abuse and Neglect of People with Dementia,” J Am Geriatrics Soc vol. 58, 3(2010): 493-500

4.  X. Q. Dong, “Medical Implications of Elder Abuse and Neglect,” Clinics in Geriatric Medicine vol. 21, 2(2005): 293–313

5.  X. Dong et al., “Elder Self-Neglect and Abuse and Mortality Risk in a Com- munity-Dwelling Population,” JAMA vol. 302, 5(2009): 517-26

6.  M. S. Lachs and J. Berman, Under the Radar: New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, (William B. Hoyt Memorial New York State Children, Fam- ily Trust Fund, New York State Office of Children and Family Services, 2011)

7.    E. Harrell, Victims of Identity Theft, 2014, (Washington, DC: Bureau of Jus- tice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, NCJ 248991, 2015), http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/vit14.pdf

8.  New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study: May 2011 (https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dfta/downloads/pdf/reports/UndertheRadar2011.pdf)