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Monday, July 8, 2019

The Perfect Victim

As any author of crime novels and mysteries will tell you, constructing the perfect crime is terrific fun. Creating a conniving villain even better. The more innocent the victim, the more anger we feel at the crime.

When the victim is the perfect victim, our anger spikes to the next level.

What is the perfect victim? For the criminal, a perfect victim is someone who:
  • refuses to admit a crime has been committed. This can stem from a spectrum of reasons from fear of reprisal from the criminal, to embarrassment that they are a victim, to loyalty or a sense of responsibility to the criminal.
  • is confused and doesn't know a crime has been committed 
  • will not bear witness against the criminal regardless of the evidence 
  • forgives the criminal...even after repeated crimes
  • feels helpless and dependent upon the criminal
  • is easily intimidated into silence.
and most importantly...
  • has something that the criminal desperately wants, needs, and feels entitled, a home, art...any number of things...up to and including something as hard to define as a family legacy.
Right about now, readers should be scratching their heads. How could a person be so weak as to let bad things happen to him or her and remain silent?

Right about now, you might be thinking I'm not talking about fiction. You'd be right. Real crimes happen to real people in real life. I'm hurting and I'm mad.

The sad answer is that the perfect victims are the elderly.

And the criminal? Again, sadly, in 60% of the cases, the criminal is a family member.

The perfect crime? Financial abuse.

No family is immune. Fame and wealth are often the bait for the criminal rather than an inoculation against it as the families of Peter Max and Stan Lee discovered. For our aging population, awareness of the crime should decrease it, but Forbes calls financial abuse of the elderly a hidden epidemic.

Financial abuse doesn't get the attention it deserves. The first reason is denial. We would never be the target nor permit a loved one to become a target. Right? Our aging parents would never dream they would fall victim to a phony charity, fake bill, or other solicitation. But when a family member places a stack of documents in front of them for their signature, any number of reasons contribute to that fate-filled signature. Misplaced trust is the most common. We deny the reality that a trusted family member could be a self-serving, self-centered ass who feels entitled to whatever they can take.

The second reason is because it's so darned personal. Families don't like to see a crime. Instead, they see siblings who don't get along, or parents who had "favorites." Maybe "Poor Johnny" received a loan he never repaid. I know plenty of families where the details of the First Bank of Mom and Dad are quietly forgotten long after the debt grew cold. Forget about a paper trail or documents. Trust has a funny way of working against the people we most want to protect.

It's the victims that make my heart bleed. Their love for the criminal blinds them, and many parents place their needs below the needs of their children. The victims are the ones who worked hard and grew a tidy nest egg. They are the ones who instilled in their kids the values of honesty, generosity, and humility only to be repaid by lies, selfishness, and arrogance. 

There is much written about elder abuse and I urge you to learn and talk about it. Learn the signs. Ask questions. Get help. The criminal wins when their crimes go undiscovered, or worse...unreported.

And maybe...just maybe...a small victory would be making one victim a little less perfect.