Paul Greenwood’s Profile
I am originally from Sussex. I have been a lawyer for 40 years. I was a solicitor in the UK for 13 years until I moved to San Diego in California in 1991. After I passed the California Bar I joined the District Attorney’s office in San Diego as a deputy district attorney [prosecutor] in 1993.
In January 1996 I was asked to start a brand new prosecution unit focusing on prosecuting felony elder abuse crimes. California has had a standalone elder abuse law since 1986. It can be found at California Penal Code section 368. The law recognises two types of victims – those who are considered “elders’ – aged 65 years of age or older – and “dependent adults” – aged 18-64 with either mental or physical disabilities. Section 368 covers various types of conduct including physical abuse and neglect, emotional abuse, financial exploitation and false imprisonment. There are then enhancements that can be included – for example, if the victim sustains a broken bone in a physical assault, the sentence can be increased by as much as an additional 5 years. Obviously, there are other laws that can attach where the victim is either an elder or a dependent adult – such as robbery, burglary, sexual assault or homicide. I prosecuted these elder abuse and associated crimes for the next 22 years until I retired in late March 2018.
Now I spend my time traveling the USA to train law enforcement, social service agencies and prosecutors in how to recognise and ultimately investigate and prosecute allegations of criminal elder abuse. My experience has left me in no doubt that the UK desperately needs to pass a standalone statute that defines elder abuse as a crime.
I agree that elder abuse should not be a hate crime. The majority of the cases that I prosecuted – including multiple homicides of elders by a family member, sexual assaults, physical abuse, neglect or financial exploitation – were not motivated by hate. But I disagree that having an elder abuse law reflects ageism. We have laws that protect children. We need laws that protect seniors and people with disabilities also.
There are so many advantages to having such a law:
- it raises awareness among the public;
- it creates opportunity for law enforcement to be trained in methods of how to deal with older adult victims and victims with disabilities;
- it gives rise to the establishment of multi-disciplinary teams in a community;
- it leads to discussion about the need for mandated reporters such as first responders, medical personnel, bank and building society employees, caregivers, clergy;
- it allows the criminal justice system to “brand” a defendant as someone who targets an elder or a person with a physical or mental disability. That is especially helpful when a police officer is investigating a suspect and runs his or her rap sheet only to find that they have a criminal history of taking advantage of a prior elder or dependent adult;
- it makes judges more sensitive to the needs of older victims or victims with certain disabilities. For example, I was able to request priority with trial schedules because of the age or condition of my victim.