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Elder Abuse and the Domestic Violence Act

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When most people think of domestic abuse, 2 things usually come to mind: abuse between spouses and abuse of children. Senior citizens, though, from those who are independent to those in assisted care, are especially vulnerable to being trapped in a cycle of abuse. When an elderly person is suffering a decline in physical and/or mental capabilities, he or she can become a "sitting duck," a target who is unable to prevent cruelty from those supposedly caring for them.

In the case of J.C. v. B.S., an Ocean County Court decision, a judge found that victims of elder care abuse can now get restraining orders under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Elder care abuse also includes physical and emotional harassment, and neglect. The J.C. v. B.S. case involved a son being forcibly removed from his mother's house after she suffered years of verbal abuse from him. The son was also prevented from returning to his mother's house without police supervision, until the Court decided it was safe to lift the restraining order. One problem with this change in the Domestic Violence law is that if the elderly person is unable to care for him or herself, a temporary care arrangement may need to be created until more permanent arrangements can be made.

Prior to this expansion of the law, it protected victims whose abusers were spouses, former spouses, present and former household members, or the co-parent of a child or future child. While it provided a broad definition for who is a victim (which did not include specific genders or age range). While the majority of elder abuse situations fell under the "old" domestic violence guidelines, some living arrangements did not, leaving some people outside of the shield of protection. By giving the elderly this new way to combat abuse, in the form of court-ordered restraining orders, they now have an additional assurance that their quality of life and dignity won't be degraded by those who mean to do them harm. Loree Varella, Rutgers School of Law Newark candidate for a JD degree in May 2016 collaborated on this blog. She is Associate Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal and Managing Research Editor of that publication.

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