The Twin Ports is ahead of the curve when it comes to addressing elder abuse. Instead of recognizing a single day - World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 - local leaders Monday proclaimed June as Elder Abuse Awareness Month.
"We're really trying to raise overall awareness of the issue, because in our area in particular, with the exponentially growing older adult population, it's just going to get worse and worse," said Esther Gieschen, program manager with University of Wisconsin-Superior continuing education.
Members of the public are invited to a community forum 5-7 p.m. June 14 at Swenson Hall on the UWS campus as well as a trio of information sessions at Duluth senior centers.
"This is a complex and difficult problem, partly because it is so hidden and many cases go unreported," said Superior Mayor Jim Paine. "So it's not just something that people like these professionals can work on; it takes everybody."
According to the National Council on Elder Abuse, at least 10 percent of adults age 65 and older experience some kind of abuse every year - physical, emotional, financial or a combination of the three.
"Using that 10 percent figure, we estimate that 750 people in Douglas County are experiencing abuse every year," Gieschen said.
Add in another 3,640 in St. Louis County, and the incidents that slip under the radar. Unreported cases far outweigh those that are reported, said Kristi Kane, division director with Arrowhead Area Agency on Aging.
"Most cases of elder abuse involve a family member or close friend," Gieschen said.
Leaders in both states recently launched efforts to curb elder abuse. Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel formed a task force in August, unveiled a public awareness campaign in January and created a new informational website, reportelderabusewi.org.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton created a task force on elder abuse, with close attention being paid to long-term care facilities.
It's good to see the alarm sounding in both states, Gieschen said.
"People just don't know about it, and people always think they're the only ones that it's happening to and they're afraid to report it, they're embarrassed to report it, they don't want to get family members in trouble; they don't want to look stupid," she said.
If no report is filed, the perpetrator is free to target others.
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said she was proud to see the state take action.
"This is just a human issue," she said. "It's not a partisan issue."
The front line people are those who have contact with the elderly. They can be Meals on Wheels drivers, neighbors, friends or relatives. If something seems amiss, Larson said, they should listen to their gut.
"If it doesn't feel right, then it's probably wrong," she said. "And we need you to step up and be the advocates for others when they're unable."
A handout listing indicators of possible abuse and numbers to call (715) 395-1304 in Douglas County; 844-880-1574 in Minnesota, 911 in an emergency or the Senior LinkAge Line, (800) 333-2433 - is being distributed at senior meal sites, long-term care facilities and even local banks.
"Our intent today is to call attention to the issue and to discuss its impact our community," said Martina Tendrup, domestic abuse program coordinator with the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse. "We want an open dialog exploring how we can work together to prevent the harm it causes while holding accountable those that commit these crimes."
To join the conversation, register for the community forum at uwsuper.edu/cce-events or call (715) 394-8469. Registration is free through Friday; $10 after that. This is the fourth year the forum has been held.
The public is invited to information sessions at 11:30 a.m. June 13 at Morgan Park Senior Center, 1242 88th Ave. W., June 21 at Evergreen Senior Center, 5830 Grand Ave., and June 29 at Portman Senior Center, 4601 McColloch St., all in Duluth.