The disturbing facts about elder abuse, and what the state is doing about it

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out chilling news earlier this year: Reports of violence against the elderly have increased dramatically.

From 2002 to 2016, assault rates against men 60 and older are up 60%; for women, 35%. From 2010 to 2016, the murder rate of men in that age group rose 7.1%. For women, it decreased slightly.

For both sexes, violence often was inflicted by a relative or acquaintance - 58% of assaults, 46% of homicides.

"The reality is elder abuse is not a whole lot different from bullying in schools," said state Sen. Craig Wilcox. Perpetrators in both instances prey "on the perceived weakness of others."

Craig Wilcox

Now, the McHenry Republican is part of a task force launched by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to study Illinois' efforts to prevent elder abuse and punish its perpetrators.

The Elder Abuse Task Force force has until January 2021 to turn in its report, the first of its kind in the state in nearly two decades. A look at the data shows why it's sorely needed.

The numbers

According to the state's Adult Protective Services agency, there were 13,536 reports of abuse against seniors in 2017.

Financial exploitation (8,604) made up the most cases, followed by passive neglect (6,679), emotional abuse (6,476), physical abuse (3,782), willful deprivation (2,268), confinement (1,381), and sexual abuse (765).

Victims generally experience more than one type of abuse, according to the agency. For example, financial exploitation is highly associated with emotional abuse. About 67% of victims were women, as were 51% of abusers.

One in five victims is 86 or older, and more than half of the victims suffer from barriers to independent living such as being functionally impaired.

'A ton of shame'

Kane County sheriff's Detective Krysta Kaus is familiar with elder abuse. As a deputy for 15 years, she immersed herself in the issue. This spring, Sheriff Ron Hain created the position of older adult services and assigned it to Kaus.

Krysta Kaus

"Working with the seniors has been the most humbling and eye-opening experience of my career," Kaus said.

The abuse she sees most is financial, by people in a position of trust with the victims, such as their adult children.

"Family asks family to do favors for them all the time," she said, such as asking relatives for help filling out income tax returns. The abusers then have the victim's Social Security and bank account numbers.

"By the time we get the telephone call they have (often) run out of money," Kaus said.

Victims can be reluctant to report a crime because they are terrified of being left alone, she said. And elderly victims suffer "a ton of shame."

"They know they were preyed on because they were lonely or that they were old," Kaus said.

Having the new task force review how the state handles elder abuse is good, she said. She hopes it will address what she calls "service gaps" that could prevent abuse. That includes providing state-funded respite care for stressed-out and overwhelmed caregivers.

"This is a really good time for the task force to get ahead of the game," Kaus said.

Speaking of safety

Kaus told us that senior citizens are invited to attend free sessions of the first Illinois TRIAD conference, to be held Sept. 24-25 in Northlake. TRIAD brings law enforcement, service agencies and the elderly together to address issues concerning senior citizens. There are TRIAD organizations across the suburbs.

The conference will have presentations for seniors, for service providers and for law enforcement. For more information or to register, visit or call (815) 931-2028.

Good dogs

It was a banner week for the canines of Lake County law enforcement.

Browser, the Lake County state's attorney's electronics detection canine, helped the FBI investigate an Indiana man later charged with transportation of child pornography. Courtesy of the Lake County State's Attorney

First, Browser, the Lake County state's attorney office's electronic detection canine, played a role in helping the FBI nab a Northwest Indiana man - and convicted child molester - accused of trying to publish children's books that depict minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

Federal authorities say Browser took part in an investigation launched in July when a book publisher told the FBI about three books submitted by Michael Christianson, 50, of LaPorte.

According to the FBI, the books encourage children to play naked with one another and adults. They use large fonts, simple words, photos and illustrations, and most of the sentences rhyme.

With Browser's help, the federal authorities this week charged Christianson with transportation of child pornography. The arrest comes just three years after he was released from prison after spending 14 years behind bars on a conviction for child molestation.

"We are so proud of our electronic evidence canine," State's Attorney Michael G. Nerheim said in an announcement of the charges. "As we have said since the beginning, Browser is and will remain available to any law enforcement agency in need of his services."

As an electronic detection canine, Browser uses his heightened sense of smell to detect triphenylphosphine oxide, a chemical baked onto computer circuits to prevent devices from overheating. That allows him to find evidence of electronic devices that may be hidden or have slipped past humans.

Anything you can do

Not to be outdone, Lake County sheriff's explosive detection dog Boomer and partner Deputy Brian Kilpatrick returned home from a national competition with more than a handful of awards.

Boomer, the explosive detection dog for the Lake County sheriff's office, returned home from a national competition this month with five first-place awards. Courtesy of the Lake County Sheriff's Office

The pair claimed five first-place national titles and one third-place title at the 20th annual Vohne Liche Kennels Certifications and Trials - known as the K9 Olympics - held in Denver, Indiana. Canine teams from as far away as Brazil, and including Department of Defense Special Forces dogs, take part in the event, which test the handler's abilities and the dog's skills in explosive detection and patrol work.

Boomer took first in explosive door bottoms, explosive warehouse, explosive buildings and best overall dog, and he and Kilpatrick earned the best overall team honor.

"Lake County is very fortunate to have this amazing explosive detection canine team right here in the county," Sheriff John Idleburg said.

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