About Us

Two leading advocacy organizations – the National Council on Aging and WITNESS – are working with the Elder Justice Coalition and hundreds of advocates across the country to ensure passage of the Elder Justice Act.

Both organizations share core values related to dignity and social justice. NCOA and WITNESS are collecting hundreds of video stories about elder abuse. They will share them with members of Congress, the media and online as a way of bringing more attention to this long neglected issue.

NCOA is an advocacy and service organization located in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve the lives of older Americans. NCOA is a national voice for older adults – especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged — and the community organizations that serve them. It brings together non-profit organizations, businesses and government to develop creative solutions that improve the lives of all older adults. And, NCOA works with thousands of organizations across the country to help seniors live independently, find jobs and benefits, improve their health, live independently and remain active in their communities.

WITNESS is an international human rights organization that uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. WITNESS empowers people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change. For the past 15 years, WITNESS has worked in collaboration with over 250 organizations in over 80 countries throughout the world, reaching thousands of activists and human rights defenders worldwide. Its U.S. offices are in New York City.

Elder Justice Advocates in 10 states are working with NCOA and WITNESS on passage of the Elder Justice Act.

The Elder Justice Coalition is a coalition of 755 groups that are united in seeking passage of the Elder Justice Act.

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A Silent Crisis: Elder Abuse and Justice in America

June 16, 2009 1 comment

My grandmother’s life intersected squarely with the unprecedented rise in life expectancy for all elders. This rise has also led to one of our greatest silent crises: elder abuse.

About same time Alzheimer’s began to cloud my grandmother’s once sharp mind, she heard a knock on the door of her 3rd floor apartment in Des Moines, Iowa. She opened it to find a friendly salesman selling John F. Kennedy half-dollars made out of pure gold in a frame with a blue velvet backing. They made an exchange –she handed him a check for $900 and the swindler gave her one dollar in coins.


For millions of elderly people in the United States just like my grandmother, living longer has also meant living in silent fear, battered and beaten, preyed upon, often quieted by shame. Elder abuse is a prolific problem that comes in many forms – physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, with many elders suffering more than just one type of abuse. Of the five million elders estimated to suffer abuse in the U.S. alone each year, the vast majority are subject to multiple forms of mistreatment. They are also three times more likely to die prematurely than those who are not victimized.

Yet, elder abuse is not perceived as a national tragedy. No one talks about it. Silence remains, in part, because many of our elders are isolated by and dependent on those who hurt them, and the perceived shame and stigma of disclosing that they are suffering at the hands of their own caregiver can act as a powerful silencer. But abuse also stays hidden because many older Americans don’t have the means or the capacity to report it.

At the rare times when elder abuse is publicly discussed, the conversations usually feature the voices Elder Justice advocates, social workers or journalists. A typical example is this CBS News report from 2006. Only occasionally do we get a glimpse into the elders’ views which can be seen in this video taken at an elder justice rally.

Insights from these experts are critical in the fight to secure justice for older Americans but so is the wisdom from these elders themselves, and to date their voices have been absent from the debate that affects them most directly.

I was surprised to learn how deeply buried this issue is because elder abuse touches us all. It cuts across gender, social, racial, ethnic, economic and geographic lines – yet it’s rarely mentioned in social justice or human rights circles nationally or even internationally. Key UN documents from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Millennium Development Goals omit any mention of age. And here at home the U.S Congress has yet to pass comprehensive federal legislation to protect our oldest members of society, placing it 20 years behind advocacy to protect children from abuse and 10 years behind the work to end domestic violence.


To address this colossal fissure in our laws, more than 500 members of the Elder Justice Coalition (EJC) have been vigilantly working over the course of the last decade to secure the passage of the Elder Justice Act (EJA) through Congress. Passing this Act will provide us with a foundation from which we can begin to protect our society’s elders because it will provide long-needed support for programs to help us understand how to prevent and detect abuse, intervene where it happens, treat victims with dignity and respect, and fairly prosecute perpetrators.

Yet despite the EJA’s principled objectives and many years of effort, one of the authors of the Act, Marie-Therese Connolly explains, “Comprehensive federal laws to combat child abuse and domestic violence have had an immense impact for decades. By contrast, the relatively uncontroversial Elder Justice Act has languished (in Congress) since 2002.” With the recent changes in Washington, now is the time to pass this act and give America’s elders the security, dignity and equality they deserve.


So why is this important to WITNESS? We are partnering with the National Council on Aging (NCOA) – which has been working on behalf of disadvantaged and vulnerable Elders for over 60 years – to bring the voices of Older Americans to this debate, heighten the visibility of Elder abuse, and end Congressional complacency. In addition to securing passage of the EJA, WITNESS and NCOA will work with Elder Justice organizations across the country, training activists in strategic video advocacy planning and giving them the skills necessary to collect stories of abuse to bring Elder Justice into the national conversation.

Once footage from across the country has been gathered and edited, we will collaborate to reach key Congressional representatives, the national media and our citizenry with compelling stories which will force us to face our elders, end our collective denial and pass the EJA.


WITNESS and NCOA are just beginning work on the planning of this video advocacy campaign. We’d like you to join in as we move forward with this campaign to pass the Elder Justice Act and showcase the voices of older Americans:

• Return to the Hub Blog for updates on the production process in the weeks and months ahead

• Sign up for the Video for Change newsletter for updates on the Elder Justice Campaign

• Read more about the work of the NCOA at http://www.ncoa.org, and

• Visit the site of the Elder Justice Coalition at http://www.elderjusticecoalition.com/

Most of all though, we ask you to listen as we bring the voices of American’s elders to you throughout this campaign. Please hear what they have to say. Respect their voice. Value their wisdom. Add yours.

[This post was written by Nicole Schilit, WITNESS’ North America Program Intern, and Kelly Matheson, North America Program Coordinator]

This post originally appeared on WITNESS’ Hub.

June 15: World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Monday, June 15, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which works to recognize elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue and raise awareness to put an end to the abuse and neglect of older persons. The day is sponsored by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA), and it asks you to show your support by attending or hosting an event on Monday – as well as by wearing the color purple.

WITNESS is partnered with the National Council on Aging to help break the silence on elder abuse in the United States – and urge Congress to pass the Elder Justice Act. On this day of World Elder Abuse Awareness, I wanted to feature some of the best elder abuse-related videos we’ve found so far (if you know of others, please share them with us!).
First up is a very powerful 30-second elder abuse public service announcement out of Ontario, Canada. There are very few videos out there on elder abuse from North America (outside of lawyers trying to get clients), but I believe this one could be replicated and reused in many societies.

Age Demands Action is a video from Help Age International that features actions to raise awareness and call for accountability of elder abuse in 35 countries on October 1, 2008. I think it is a good video to highlight an elder justice campaign by, for and on behalf of older persons.

This video from Age Concern of New Zealand is a good intro to what elder abuse is and how people need to act to deal with it. It focuses on respect and the video serves as a training resource examines what ‘respect’ means and includes case studies that show how a lack of respect can lead to elder abuse and neglect.

This video is of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel testifying before the House Judiciary Committee about the Elder Justice Act in 2008 as the House Democratic Caucus Chairman.

Special thanks to Masha Medvedkov, a fantastic WITNESS intern, for her research for and assistance with this post, which was originally posted on the WITNESS Hub.

Elder Justice: Share a Story

April 21, 2009 1 comment


On May 22nd in theatres across the United States, actor William Mapother – best known for his role as Ethan in the television series Lost – will ask all Americans to join him in the fight to end elder abuse and restore rights for older Americans.

Unfortunately, no one is guaranteed to be free from abuse in our latter years. Elder abuse affects millions of citizens each year in the United States and cuts across gender, racial, ethnic, religious, geographic and socio-economic lines. Perhaps even more importantly, the problem is only poised to grow as the boomer generation starts to retire. So it’s vital that we come together, bring this problem out of the shadows and speak up about an issue that has or will affect each of us personally, whether when our own basic rights are violated or when elder abuse happens to someone we may know.

Over the course of the last two decades, the National Center on Elder Abuse – a program of the Administration on Aging – has been working diligently to bring attention to this issue. Their Join Us Now campaign which sponsored the elder abuse information piece above is only part of a larger effort to bring the issue of elder abuse out of the shadows. WITNESS and the National Council on Aging (NCOA) are supporting this effort by asking you to share your stories about elder abuse as well as your though on how we can stop this crisis. My own personal story is below and also in this piece I wrote a few weeks ago.

Next month, as part of our partnership to end elder abuse with NCOA, we will be at the University of Southern California to train elder justice advocates from across the country how to use video to advocate for elder rights. Our two main goals will be:

1) to bring elder abuse into the national spotlight by empowering elders to share their stories and communicate their needs to key decision-makers;

2) to secure the passage of the Elder Justice Act so we can have a federal foundation on which to build security, dignity and equality for community members who have given us a lifetime of contributions.


There are a number of ways you too can help make a difference and get engaged in the fight to build a society that protects the rights of all its members. Here are a few:

1) Help Raise Awareness About Elder Justice

In addition to emailing your friends and family to let them know about this campaign, you can also join the WITNESS email list where we’ll post regular updates about this campaign.

2) Share your story about elder abuse

Join the conversation on the Hub by leaving a comment below or uploading a video about Elder Justice (to upload, join the Hub now – it’s easy and free). Make sure to tag your video “Elder Justice”. You can also add your story to NCOA’s website by clicking here.

3) Stay Informed!

Subscribe to our Video for Change newsletter and join the NCOA network.

And finally, a special word to Bloggers & Vloggers… Help us spread the word – if you blog about the Elder Justice Campaign, please send us an email or a tweet (@witnessorg)… Also, if you want to add a Hub button on your blog, get one here!

This post originally appeared on the WITNESS Hub.