How Concerned Persons help us stand up for (elder) justice

philip c marshall
25 min readMay 17, 2022


A keynote presented before participants at the Rhode Island Attorney General Elder Justice Summit sponsored by AARP Rhode Island on May 20, 2022 .

We must come to terms with terminology.

Sweetland, Volmert, and O’Neil. Finding the Frame: An Empirical Approach to Reframing Aging and Ageism. FrameWorks Institute. April 7, 2017 • Gugliucci, Marylin R. and Steven Price. Maine Voices: Reframing aging and embracing the power of older adults. Portland Press Herald. May 1, 2022.

“Let’s elder justice”

Elder” is not only a noun that connotes sage wisdom, or implies reduced competency; a subject with imbued with agency, or subjugated by schema; an object that may be revered, or objectified; a term that imposes term limits when it distances and debilitates our future self.

In combination, “Elder” is not only an adjective that limits the greater meaning of a noun — in our case, “justice.”

Today, and all along the way…

Let’s Elder Justice”

Let’s consider “elder” as a transitive verb that expresses an action and transitions through its object — “justice” — to complete its meaning.

In it most functional form, as a verb with high transitivity “elder” profoundly affects the agency of its direct object — justice — to the same degree the verb “empower” does, for example.

“Let’s elder justice”

Let’s maintain our lifelong promise of trust.

Let’s realize our just and equitable future self.

Colleagues at the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office — thank you for inviting me to present at our Elder Justice Summit.

Thank you for inviting a “ victim” to provide this keynote.

Please consider what I’m offering you as a menu of “food for thought” — with topics listed and linked to, here.

To help you listen and look, over taking notes and photos, I have provided this talk as a PDF file, and an article with the text—both already up at

In the file, you can navigate to any section, and return to this menu. In each slide, any underlined text will take you to hyperlinked references and resources on the Web.

Edwin Walker, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging, Administration for Community Living, US Department of Health and Human Services

Stand Up for Justice

To cut to the chase, I feel they’re three reasons I am invited to advocate for elder justice:

  • I’m the grandson of a famous philanthropist…who was abused by her only child, my father;
  • I’m a Concerned Person who acted, to save my grandmother from abuse;
  • Due to the efforts of many, we were successful.


  • Most people don’t have a famous grandmother;
  • Most people don’t act…against abuse;
  • And, if they do, most people never share such success.

What is considered less than our success is the trauma that took its toll on each of us throughout our ordeal, as Concerned Persons.

The same trauma is suffered by an estimated 73 million Concerned Persons across America.

Concerned Persons include non-abusing family, friends, and neighbors who serve as informal network supporters for older adults who are vulnerable to or suffering from abuse and financial exploitation.

As informal network supporters there’s nothing ‘informal’ about the stress some endure.

A Concerned Person is a supporting actor helping an older adult maintain the lead role in their own lives.

Explicitly, Concerned Persons need support, too.

But, as I will express and emphasize, while Concerned Persons need help from experts like you; in turn, you need their help, too — in partnership.

Together let’s practice philanthropy, the love of humanity.

Brooke Astor. People Magazine. August 27, 2007

Brooke Astor

As president of the Vincent Astor Foundation for four decades — all, as an older adult — my grandmother intentionally addressed the “quality-of-life” through engaged philanthropy.

In her advanced age, she unintentionally advanced the “quality of life, at the end of life.”

Perhaps it’s prescient that she wore purple, the campaign color for elder justice.

Brooke Astor. Photographer: Mark Peterson/CORBIS for The New York Times Magazine.

My grandmother was “Brooke Astor” only in the last half of her century-long life, with her last name gained after she married Vincent Astor in 1953.

Following Vincent’s death in ’59, she became president of the Vincent Astor Foundation.

Well into her 90s, she was center stage as “New York’s First Lady” and a “humanist aristocrat with a generous heart.”

Brooke Astor (at age 96) receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton, 1998. Photographer: Harry Hamburg.

At age 96, my grandmother received the nation’s top civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Clinton.

Cakes at Brooke Astor’s100th-birthday party hosted by David Rockefeller at Kykuit, Pocantico Hills, NY. March 2002.

Her close friend David Rockefeller hosted her 100th birthday party.

Then, she disappeared from the limelight.

This is until the contents of my guardianship petition, which was to have been sealed, were discovered by the press — leading to front-page headlines reading…

“Disaster for Mrs. Astor,” Stunning Court Allegations. New York Daily News, July 26, 2006, Getty Images, New York Daily News archives. • Richardson, John. The Battle for Mrs. Astor. Vanity Fair. September 4, 2008.

…“Disaster for Mrs. Astor.”

James Hillman, The Soul’s Code

My grandmother would never want to be known as one of America’s most famous cases of elder abuse.

Nor did she, while in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease, choose to be victimized; to be deprived, manipulated, and robbed — all as part of my father’s calculated “scheme to defraud,” as characterized by the Manhattan District Attorney Elder Abuse Unit.

Yet, the sad circumstances surrounding my grandmother have informed a timely, and timeless, cause…in elder justice.

This may be her greatest, most lasting legacy.

Complacent • Complicit

As my grandmother now rests in peace, I could have resumed my life as before.

For years my battle for my grandmother, and my battle against my father consumed my life — and consumed our family.

After a six-month criminal trial and conviction of my father, a friend said, “Philip, you must be glad that’s all over.”

But, I realize: when elder abuse hits home, it hurts.

I realize: While my grandmother was abused and isolated, her case is far from isolated.

I realize: The aftermath of elder abuse far exceeds any dollar amount. Most costs are irretrievable; some, compounded.

I realize: If my grandmother, Brooke Astor, can be victimized, elder abuse does not discriminate; any older person is vulnerable.

Today, victims of this crime may be strangers. Tomorrow, they may be our loved ones, or perhaps, in the future, ourselves. Seniors and society deserve more.

Yet, our national negligence is a proximate cause of elder abuse — and an injury to our mores…and morality.

Negligence may be at personal, professional, and societal levels. ≈

When our elders lose their sight, it’s natural; when we turn a blind eye to their plight, it’s negligent.

When our elders lose their hearing, it’s natural; when we are deaf to their cries for help, it’s negligent.

When our elders lose their voice, it’s natural; when we choose not to voice our concern, it’s negligent.

And when our elder’s capacity is reduced, it’s natural; when their assets are reduced, without consent, it’s criminal.

And so, I realize…

to be complacent about elder justice is to be complicit in elder abuse.

Our silence……protects perpetrators, not their victims, our loved ones.

Concerned Persons

Concerned Persons help break the silence.

Concerned Persons are critical to societyʼs success in detecting, responding to, and even preventing abuse.

Concerned Persons voice a clarion call to unite our circles of support to help.

Concerned Persons are represented in our informal and formal social networks to include — respectively, and respectfully:

  1. non-abusing family, friends, and neighbors and
  2. experts who serve, support, and save
• Breckman, Risa, et al. (2018) When Helping Hurts. The Gerontologist • Mantrone and Breckman. Learnings from the Pilot Year of the Elder Abuse Helpline for Concerned Persons. NYCEAC, 2019 • Breckman, Risa and Philip C. Marshall. When Helping Hurts. Huffington Post, 2017

Colleagues utilized Cornell University’s (Survey Research Institute’s) omnibus survey to learn about these Concerned Persons who step up to help elder abuse victims.

Concerned Persons — here, informal network supporters — were a population that had never been assessed.

The survey results were published in The Gerontologist. They show that when findings are extended to the general population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016)…

  • 73 million adult Americans have had personal knowledge of a victim of elder mistreatment.
  • For over 32 million adult Americans, just knowing about an elder abuse situation is generally highly stressful.

Concerned person Nancy Oatts designed a graphic for a Huffington Post article, “When Helping Hurts.” The artwork describes our altruistic act with the word “helping” that balances on a slackline and ends with a dangling letter “g”.

As a grandson who helped his grandmother, I identify with Nancyʼs dangling “g.”

But, to be more accurate, the “g” represents gender (dis)equity.

As revealed by an assessment of the pilot year of the NYC Elder Abuse Center Helpline,

“Concerned persons were overwhelmingly female…[and]…daughters made the most calls, by far.”

Allegory of Justice. Ceiling, galleria del Poccetti, Palazzo Pitti, Florence.

As Justitia holds the balance, she acknowledges that ageless equity (my term) will be strengthened when we practice gender equity.

As principled actors, Concerned Persons draw the line.

This line becomes a battle line;

  • at times, Concerned Persons position themselves as human shields to protect older adults;
  • at times, Concerned Persons become collateral damage.

This line becomes a slackline on which Concerned Persons balance all lifeʼs responsibilities, while now navigating dangerous, uncharted territory.

Concerned Persons hang on by a thread — alone, they cannot weave a secure safety net for seniors, self, and society.

Our secure safety net must be woven by all of us, all society.

Our safety net works…

Hernandez-Tejada, Melba A. “Social Support is a Modifiable Construct” The Role of Social Support in the Lives of Elder Abuse-Victims. NAPSA. June 2012 • Aging Network (Eldercare Locator), U.S. AoA, ACL(administered by USAging)

…only when we have safety networks: formal, and informal, and in unison.

As a modifiable construct, our social support can strengthen safety networks.

Burnes, Breckman, Henderson Lachs, and Pillemer (2018) Informal Network Supporters Make a Difference in Facilitating Use of Formal Support Services for Elder Abuse Victims. • Bicchieri, Cristina. (2017) Norms in the Wild: How to diagnose, measure, and change social norms. Oxford.

Our safety networks’ concern, capacity, and collaboration is strengthened by metrics, research, legislation, plans, policy, protocol, and funding — all informed by practice and advocacy.

Through practice and advocacy, by example, together formal and informal networks can signal to society our “collective change of expectations” — a new normal — that will draw greater society back in.

But, wait: why has society been so sidelined?

First, in exploring our relationships, it’s important to face the debilitating lack of them…

…through isolation — physical, social, and psychological.

Covid transmission has proven humanity’s inviolable interdependence — and some individual’s involute isolation.

But we didn’t need Covid to isolate older adults, and our future self.

Humanity’s self awareness of self — of our vulnerability and inevitable death — elicits an existential response that creates timeless beauty, causes immediate destruction, and engenders escapism from our future fate, which we try to isolate.

Rhode Island Senate, Bill № 499 (2019) Peter Falk Criminal Isolation of Elders Act

Elder justice has been socially isolated, too—especially in the realm of elder abuse as a crime.

Criminology, and most of society, typically address elder abuse in the context of the victim-offender (or elder-abuser) dyad — with a focus on offender, and offender intent.

In turn, this focus on an “elder-abuser dyad” sidelines society — at society’s convenience and expense, while contributing to the compound effect of this social harm.

Strategically delivered, isolation is a perpetrator’s first weapon of choice, allowing them to advance other forms of abuse in their arsenal.

This is one reason why the Peter Falk Criminal Isolation of Elders Act needs to be re-introduced, passed in the House and Senate and, this time, signed by the Governor.

Harbison, et al. (2011) Understanding “Elder Abuse and Neglect” JEAN.

As it is, society has isolated older adults, to make them dependent.

Joan Harbison and her Canadian colleagues note,

much of the social dependency of older people was artificially created, leading to an ‘institutionalized ageism’…”

In the 1950s, policies forced older people to retire from the work force in response to a perceived postwar glut of workers. Employers, who wanted to reboot their work force, gave seniors the boot.

Ageism and dependency were advanced as a social harm imposed on older adults, on our circles of support, and on our future self.

Harbison, et al. (2011) Understanding “Elder Abuse and Neglect” JEAN.

Harbison observes that “…social conditions led to constructions of older people as in need of care and protection by professionals.”

It’s experts, like you—who “serve, support, and save” seniors—that first identified this constructed “problem” as a social harm and who, ever since, have been concerned, and coping, while society sits on the sideline.

You are in good company.

Concerned Persons — non-abusing family, friends, and neighbors in informal social networks — are isolated, too.

When a Concerned Person’s capacity, consternation, and commitment are discredited and discounted, older adults may be at greater risk, with the burden to serve and save seniors shouldered by experts — more.

I repeat: older adults may be at greater risk, with the burden to serve and save seniors shouldered by experts — more.

Lacking Concerned Persons, vulnerable citizens are at greater risk — while society is less enraged and engaged, as it should be.

So, let’s expand our circles of support to embrace all society—starting at the center.

Podnieks, Elizabeth. Opening Remarks. Seventh Global Summit, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. NAPSA, INPEA, and partners June 14, 2021

Let’s not advance any ageist attitude that debilitates society, and our future self.

With our support, it’s elders who can lead the vanguard of elder justice, and respond to abuse.

By example, Elizabeth Podnieks, founder of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, spoke at the WEAAD 2021 Global Summit to underscore the need, and opportunity, to take a strengths-based approach, starting at the center, with elders, then expanding society wide.

Let’s keep in mind that society and self are dance partners…for life.

Bicchieri, Cristina. (2017) Norms in the Wild: How to diagnose, measure, and change social norms.

Through practice and advocacy, by example, together informal and formal Concerned Persons, and older persons, can signal to society a “collective change of expectations” — a new normal — that will draw greater society back in.

Elder Abuse is a Crime

In filing a guardianship petition for my grandmother, my hope was that this “family affair” would be quietly settled.

But, for my grandmother, and millions of other seniors, elder abuse is not a “family affair,” nor a “civil” matter.

Elder abuse is a crime and it needs to be treated as such so victims and their supporters are not re-victimized by their perpetrators — and by our lack of responsibility, and response.

If I could do it over again, I would have called the Manhattan DA immediately.

I remain grateful to Liz Loewy and her colleagues. At the time, Liz was lead prosecutor of the elder-abuse unit in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

As we entered the criminal justice system, Liz coupled compassion with Kleenex, helping us to find our voice and tell our story — allowing us to advance from taking a stand, and helping my grandmother, to taking the stand, in criminal court, for the greater cause of elder justice. ≈

At first, I did not recognize the full meaning of “elder justice.”

When my petition for guardianship was granted, I did not realize elder justice: I helped my grandmother and those trying to help her. I only realized elder justice when I, and many others, helped bring some of my grandmother’s perpetrators — my father, included — to justice.

In so doing, I better understand Reverend King’s claim that, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice” — here, elder justice.

Jackson and Hafemeister. Financial Abuse of Elderly People vs. Other Forms of Elder Abuse: Assessing Their Dynamics, Risk Factors, and Society’s Response. 2011

Isolation of older adults and Concerned Persons (informal and formal) provides perpetrators with an opportunity, a means, and even a motive.

Trust provides a tonic.

The Toronto Declaration on the Global Prevention of Elder Abuse (at CNPEA), WHO, 2002

Trust Triad

All-too-prevalent fraud and ‘pure’ elder financial exploitation aside, elder abuse is the betrayal of trust.

(Elder) justice is our promise of trust.

Sam Harris, Free Will, Part 6: The Paradox of Responsibility. Waking Up • Baumeister, Vohs, and Oettingen. Pragmatic Prospection: How and Why People Think about the Future. 2016

Justice is our promise as “The notion of moral responsibility is always forward looking” as expressed by Sam Harris in “The Paradox of Responsibility.”

This is why we must “elder” justice — with “elder” as a transitive verb.

Both “elder” and “justice” are forward looking; in sum and syntax, they provide a clear binocular vision — aided by pragmatic prospection — that guides our actions to our desired future.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. (2018) Skin in the Game: Hidden asymmetries in daily life. Taleb’s fifth book in Incerto

As Concerned Persons know, trust involves the trust twins: ethics and agency. Our ethical responsibility to act and our ability to respond—our ‘response- ability.”

In his book Skin in the Game: Hidden asymmetries in daily life, Nassim Taleb notes, “The entire point of the book is that in the real world it is hard to disentangle ethics on one hand from knowledge and competence on the other.”

As Concerned Persons, our ethical responsibility must be matched by, and mesh with, our societal ‘response-ability,’ society’s ability to respond.

Otherwise, as Concerned Persons, we feel helpless and hopeless — as do those we strive to help.

As elder-justice experts, your (state and federal) agencies can help Concerned Persons achieve agency — agency to act against injustice, agency toward self-care.

As legislators and regulators your acts can help Concerned Persons act.

Rhode Island’s has done just this — through:

  • For everyone — Mandated reporting for suspected abuse, neglect, and/or financial exploitation
  • For financial industry professionals — The Elder Adult Financial Exploitation Prevention Act, 2021
(1) Promittere “…foretell; assure beforehand, promise.” Etymonline • (2) Burnes and Lachs. (2017) The Case for Individualized Goal Attainment Scaling Measurement in Elder Abuse Interventions..
Baumeister and Vohs. (2016) Introduction to the Special Issue: The Science of Prospection. [Review of General Psychology] • (3) Wish to live and (testamentary) wish to give

For older adults, our promise extends far in to the future, with the trust triad.

In addition to ethics and agency, our promise is achieved when we know, and help realize, a person’s life (including end of life) goals and legacy wishes.

Knowing my grandmother’s wish to live and her wish to give guided our every step, as Concerned Persons. It was her wish to live her last days at her country house, and her wish to give to charities in New York—both of which had been denied.

Philip Marshall in entrance of Brooke Astor’s apartment, 778 Park Avenue, New York, NY. April 2, 2006.

Our Social Compact

In April 2006, I waited for the elevator at my grandmother’s mirrored apartment entrance.

I was midstream through planning to act, so the moment gave a whole new meaning to “through the looking glass.”

Before I acted to help my grandmother, I was filled with angst, frustration, and a sense of impotence as I watched her world, which had spanned the globe and a century, become so diminished and compromised.

At first, I didn’t know what to do—or who to turn to.

I had decided to act, but I had no idea how it would be possible — or once I acted, if it would make matters worse.

I lingered in limbo, as do all Concerned Persons.

I wish I had had a helpline available.

I also wish I had found a social model for standing up to injustice to guide my steps along this precarious path.

By 2016, I realized there was no adequate social model to help each of us stand up against (elder) injustice.

To realize social justice, we must seek the emergence of a new, shared, pro-social norm, and the abandonment of norms that have stifled society and self.

To scale to society, a new pro-social model must be modeled.

What follows is a model I call Upstandership, which is modeled by Concerned Persons, including you

For social animals, like humans, independence is an illusion, as we are always in dependence on others.

This entire presentation presumes that our social compact is realized by the interdependence of society and self, in equal measure.

This equity is at the heart of all equity, and humanity.

This equity gives us relief from belief, otherwise.

As a pillar, “self” seems so self supporting.

In fact, society must rise to support each of us when we stand up to act against injustice, when we practice Upstandership.

For us to practice Upstandership the “you,” as a pronoun, must be both singular and plural.

And, as a pronoun, “you” proceeds action — united in unison.

Please take a moment to confirm your concern and capacity — as experts.

Please take a moment to proclaim personally,

“I! I, too, am a Concerned Person.” — “¡Yo! Yo también soy una Persona Preocupada.

We can engage and empower all our safety networks when we confirm our community concern, capacity, and collaboration

…to provide a firm foundation that allows us to rise and stand up to injustice…

…by practicing Upstandership.

For Concerned Persons, sometimes the storm clouds lift to reveal sunny skies ahead.

More frequently, every step is hazardous, with no end in sight.

Most unfortunately, there can be a cold reception, with constructed obstacles all along the way.

But there’s help, for those who seek to help.

The New York City Elder Abuse Center maintains an Elder Abuse Helpline for Concerned Persons, delivering on a promise of trust, with confidence.

As a Concerned Person seeks to help an older adult inflicted by a betrayal of trust, it is confidence that helps them reach out to experts for help as to how to help — an older adult, and themselves.

Concerned persons trust experts’ ethics, as they confide in you — knowing you trust them, too.

Concerned persons trust your agency, as they are confident that you, and other experts, can help — and not question their altruistic motives.

Yet, under duress, trust may be tried and compromised.

Perpetrators know this, too—to their advantage.

Capable Guardians

Elder abuse may be “under the radar.”

Concerned Persons help raise our sights toward reduced prevalence and increased reporting.

Concerned Persons help us aim our sights at our target: perpetrators.

Aviv, Rachel. How the Elderly Loose their Rights. The New Yorker. October 9, 2017

I will be referring to a “guardian” in a moment.

To be clear, I will not be referring to a court-appointed guardian holding plenary guardianship for a “ward.”

Speaking of wards, my grandmother received lots of awards, but she would never want to be referred to as a “ward.”

Guardianship (or conservatorship) provides the litmus test for our social compact between society and self.

Public guardianship can provide a means for older adults to age in place, with grace — as espoused by the Age My Way theme of Older Americans Month, this May, led by ACL.

But, without careful screening, reliable data, and vigilant monitoring…private guardianship can provide a means for the unencumbered, state-sanctioned isolation, exploitation, and premature death of older adults.

I refer you to Rachel Aviv’s terrifying report in The New Yorker.

Luckily, Rhode Island recently enacted legislation to provide:

  • National criminal background checks for persons appointed limited guardian or guardian, and…
  • A less restrictive alternative to guardianship through the Supported Decision Making Act.

The goal of this legislation, and guardianship reform at large, will be realized when guardianship is under the courts, fully.

As a semaphore, red flags signal a warning.

To date, in our battle against elder abuse, our approach has been defensive.

We look for red flags as warning signs of attack by abusers or vulnerability of their victims.

A Naval Encounter between Dutch and Spanish Warships (detail) by Cornelis Verbeeck, c. 1618/1620. National Gallery of Art

In historic military battles, raising a solid red flag signified the captain and crew’s intent to engage in combat — to be on the offensive.

Cohen and Felson. 1979. Routine Activity Theory

Routine activity theory defines a defensive stance.

Routine activity theory helps us understand why crimes happen, and help us to prevent crime.

Routine activity theory includes a physical convergence in time and space — during our routine activities — of a likely offender with the goal of committing crimes against a suitable target in the absence of a capable guardian.

Cohen and Felson. 1979. Routine Activity Theory

Concerned Persons, as ‘capable guardians,’ are a most important social factor helping toward prevention and intervention.

In my guardianship petition I sought to help my grandmother and to help those who were helping her — here Chris Ely, my grandmother’s “country butler.”

Chris protected her boss, her friend, my grandmother from herself when she was in the throes of Alzheimers, and from my father because she was in the throes of Alzheimers.

Chris was my grandmother’s Saint Christopher, a capable guardian guiding her home.

Meadows, Donella. Leverage Points

A Concerned Person, as a capable guardian, practices Upstandership.

The role and goal of Concerned Persons are contextual supportive factors, which should be given equal weight to other contextual factors.

Given their power to transcend paradigms, Concerned Persons serve as a leverage point for systems change as they model the practice of Upstandership.

Upstandership: Standing and Harm

Upstandership is an ethic and practice of standing up to social injustice — acute, chronic, and systemic.

Upstandership is not a single act but a process of shaping (here, -ship) our individual (personal and professional) capacity to act.

Upstandership is cradled in trust, realized through our relationships and responsibility.

Applicable to other forms of injustice, it’s particularly pertinent to test drive Upstandership through elder justice — through the lens of our future self.

Elder justice is in its infancy as compared with our other moral, social, and legal obligations.

Social justice is not about just one cause or just another; it’s inclusive and embracing.

Toward a synthesis, elder justice can help complete, not compete with, other causes — mindful of Hegel’s words, paraphrased, that,

“The conflict is not between good and evil but between goods that are each making too exclusive a claim.”

A Concerned Person practices “Upstandership.”

As Concerned Persons, we are concerned; And, it’s our concern.

We are concerned; we’re worried, we’re anxious, we’re even traumatized about the wellbeing of vulnerable persons…and ourselves.


It’s our concern; we recognize it’s our personal and professional responsibility to stand up to injustice…

…and be supported by society, not diminished.

For Concerned Persons, the heart of practicing Upstandership is our “standing.”

Just as concern is compounded, many Concerned Persons do not feel they are a full “person” as they are not seen as having standing (read: rights) in the eyes of experts and the letter of the law.

This diminishes Concerned Persons, and society’s response to injustice.

Linda R. S. v. Richard D. (1973) U.S. Supreme Court — “a private citizen lacks a judicially cognizable interest”

As recently as the 1980s, in the United States crime was considered a harm to society, only.

Persons who were victims of crime had no court-recognized interest, no standing, no rights.

I used the term “victim” throughout as a placeholder. Since the starting gate, the term “victim” has not invoked a strengths-based approach to repair; victima, in Latin, refers to a sentient creature killed as a religious sacrifice.

Victims of Crime Act 1984 • Violence Against Women Act 1994 • Crime Victims’ Rights Act 2004 • “crime victims are not nameless/faceless non-players in criminal justice system” Payne v Tennessee 1991 US

Today, persons who have been victimized have rights enshrined in federal and state laws and constitutions…

But, for now, society is still sidelined even though forms of abuse — elder abuse, included — are born of prejudices, discrimination, and social commissions and omissions resulting in a social harm, created by and, in turn, debilitating society.

Canning, Victoria and Steve Tombs. From Social Harm to Zemiology. 2021 • Davies, et al, eds. The Palgrave Handbook of Social Harm. 2021

To address and arrest injustice we must extend our understanding of harm beyond that endured by persons who are “primary victims” to include all victims, all members of society, all with standing.

* As interpreted by NYS Office of Victim Services, grantor, informed by VOCA formula assistance rules from the U.S. DOJ Office for Victims of Crime. Funding provided for the NYCEAC Helpline for Concerned Persons. Disclosure: Philip C. Marshall, member, Advisory Board, NYCEAC Helpline for Concerned Persons

We already have a way, thanks to VOCA, US DOJ, the NYS Office of Victim Services, and NYC Elder Abuse Center.

VOCA-funded services are now available for Concerned Persons who…

  • are considered victims of crime, too
  • can be worldwide, while being served by state funding
  • receive expert services and support throughout their experience

…as they help older adults who are residents of New York State

The NYCEAC Helpline for Concerned Persons provides a solution that can be scaled to society.


Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) U.S. Department of Justice

I refer you to the DOJ Office for Victims of Crime’s tagline — “Justice for victims. Justice for all”—with the caveat that…we are all victims as ageism, and other forms of discrimination, are social harms created by and, in turn, debilitating all society.

Rebughini, Paola. Agency in Intersectionality. 2021 • Baumeister, Vohs, and Oettingen. Pragmatic Prospection: How and Why People Think about the Future. 2016

Throughout our life course, complex, compounded commissions, omissions, and oppressions result in cumulative or intersectional inequities that may be…

  • determined by determinism and
  • based on bias that is implicit and explicit.

Let’s not be indiscriminate about forms of discrimination, or privilege: each category is a function of a different logic, each demands a distinct strategy to allow those who are discriminated to achieve agency — and to realize agency’s potential, through pragmatic prospection, to empower our future self.

When intersectionality returns to its roots we find it grounded in “dynamics within discrimination law,” with a focus on our courts.

So, “let’s elder justice.”

  • let’s maintain our lifelong promise of trust
  • let’s realize our just and equitable future self.
Balcetis, Emily and G. Daniel Lassiter. Social Psychology of Visual Perception, 2010

Our perceived distinctions between individuals of different ages, races, and genders are so salient.

So are our biases.

As with elder abuse, ageism has been “under the radar” as compared to other forms (and other norms) of discrimination and harm.

Given that “the notion of moral responsibility is always forward looking” addressing ageism provides a leverage point to address other forms of injustice with a greater vision, and not a division, of our shared future.

This is why it’s so important begin our practice of Upstandership with Concerned Persons who seek to help older adults subject to abuse.

Practicing Upstandership

Being brought to attention as a Concerned Person practicing Upstandership, we take a stand…and first steps along a hero’s journey.

Awareness fosters our connection with concern for an older adult.

When we know, be begin to notice. Through knowledge we acknowledge alleged or actual abuse, victims and their needs, others in victims’ circles of support, contextual dangers, concern for safety, and community capacity—starting with experts.

We acknowledge our personal and/or professional responsibility to act.

Action is achieved through our shared agency and realized when we report, refer, or intervene (with safety considerations in mind).

Under the Radar. Lifespan of Greater Rochester, Inc., Weill Cornell Medical Center of Cornell University, New York City Department for the Aging, 2011 —“[There is] a dramatic gap between the rate of elder abuse events reported by older New Yorkers and the number of cases referred to and served in the formal elder abuse service system.”

Concerned Persons act with conviction—and consternation—as most know:

[There is] a dramatic gap between the rate of elder abuse events reported…and the number of cases referred to and served by the system.

Concerned Persons’ involvement may help, but there’s no guarantee.

Concerned Persons linger in limbo.

* HelpVul , Unified reporting portal for financial exploitation • ** Administration for Community Living, U.S. HHS • *** NYCEAC National Elder Abuse MDT Training and Technical Assistance Center • U.S. DOJ , EJI, Multidisciplinary Team Technical Assistance Center

We must realize a trauma-inform response commensurate in measure to the harm inflicted on society and self.

The following will help:

  • A no wrong door for older adults and Concerned Persons, with a model provided by the Administration for Community Living’s “‘no wrong door” attitude and approach for gaining long-term services.
  • A statewide unified reporting and response portal—such as Helpvul, which coordinates response to financial exploitation.

Toward these, enhanced multidisciplinary teams are critical.

Here, I am not referring to the vital Multi-Disciplinary Team developed to help steward DOJ-funded St. Elizabeth Haven for Elder Justice Enhanced Training and Services to End Abuse in Later Life, a Rhode Island Elder Justice Coalition Project.

I am referring to the enhanced multi-disciplinary teams that coordinate elder abuse case review and “work collaboratively to investigate and prosecute cases, and to ensure victims receive the services they need to recover from abuse” — as described and facilitated by the U.S. DOJ Multidisciplinary Team Technical Assistance Center (MDT TAC).

NYCEAC’s National Elder Abuse MDT Training and Technical Assistance Center also provides a great entry to model collaborative efforts and include Concerned Persons’ participation. The Center is funded in part through a DOJ OVC grant.

If justice is gained through society’s ability to respond, “victims”—Concerned Persons, included—who have suffered from crime can begin to re-pair themselves as they re-pair with society, a society enriched and emboldened by their hard-learned experiences.

Working with experts, all as credible messengers, through advocacy, Concerned Persons can command society’s attention, to come full circle collectively, to become whole once again.

The Elder Adult Financial Exploitation Prevention Act, Rhode Island • Kurt LewinForce-field analysisHow to Launch a Behavior-Change Revolution, Freakonomics Radio, 2017

Psychologist Kurt Lewin observed that to achieve change in behavior, it’s better to diminish the restraining forces, not increase the driving forces. It’s better to remove restraints.

This is exactly what Rhode Island’s The Elder Adult Financial Exploitation Prevention Act achieves. This act allows trained professionals and their institutions to place a temporary hold on a transaction if they have reasonable cause to believe that financial exploitation has or might occur. When acting in good faith, they shall be immune from any civil or criminal liability.

This act removes restraints. This act allows members of the financial industry—as Concerned Persons —to act.

Damage-control, alone, is insufficient. Older adults (and their circles of support) must be valued, protected, and empowered before abuse occurs, not just after.

To do so, we must prevent abuse—more. Our greatest resource and our first line of offense are our communities, guided by aging networks.

At the vanguard, experts that serve and support seniors can serve as “presponders” (my term) to protect proactively seniors at risk.

Through action by interaction presponders can benefit from hard-learned lessons gained by responders, who save.

Toward advocacy, as experts, the Older Americans Act gives you permission and power to act.

The OAA states that experts in aging networks,

“shall serve as an effective and visible advocate on behalf of older individuals.”

Pillemer, Karl, 1 David Burnes, Catherine Riffin, and Mark S. Lachs. Elder Abuse: Global Situation, Risk Factors, and Prevention Strategies. Gerontologist, 2016, Vol. 56, No. S2, S194–S205.

As evidenced by the research of Karl Pillemer and colleagues, findings, published in the Gerontologist, note

“…elder abuse is likely the most widespread problem of older people that is largely preventable…”

You make this possible when you practice and advocate, and share your concern.



philip c marshall

Elder justice advocate. Founder of Beyond Brooke