Chinese Seniors in U.S. Fall Victim
to Elder Abuse
By Rong Xiaoqing, New America Media/Sing Tao Daily
January 6, 2011
Media/Sing Tao Daily
she immigrated to the
13 years ago, Cai E Yu still remembers the meaning of Sept. 9 on the lunar
The day is the traditional Double Nines Festival, which is also legally
designated as the Seniors’ Festival in mainland
because the digit “9” is associated with longevity in the Chinese
culture. Young people are supposed to show particular reverence to elders
on this day.
But Yu, 70, is not expecting any kind gestures from her only daughter, who
is now 50. Since Yu arrived in the
on a green card sponsored by her daughter, the daughter has been living
with Yu in her rent-controlled apartment in
New York’s Chinatown
However, their relationship started to go sour two years ago, when Yu
tried to stop her daughter from idling around day after day with a semi
live-in boyfriend, whom Yu thought was a bad influence.
“Why Don’t You Die?”
Since then, her daughter has said things like: “Why don’t you die
now?” And, “Why don’t you just go to live in the hospital?” She
has also withdrawn money from her mother’s bank account without
authorization. She even threw the mother’s belongings out of the
apartment in an attempt to force her out.
Yu is among the up to 5 million elders victimized by financial abuse in
United States, according to the
on Elder Abuse (NCEA), a program of the U.S. Administration on Aging. As
many as 2 million seniors are mistreated by family members or others they
depend on for protection. But in the Chinese and other Asian communities,
family shame and secrecy make exact numbers difficult to measure.
“Sometimes, when they [her daughter and boyfriend] are at home, I
don’t dare to go to bed. I am afraid they’d kill me when I fall
asleep,” said Yu, who got a court restraining order against her daughter
with the help of a community-based organization.
Reflecting the rapid national growth of Asian elders, the population of
seniors 60 or older is 93,000 and will more than double in 10 years. This
will be the fastest growth among all racial groups in New York, according to the City Council. And the population growth is likely to be
accompanied by a rise in abuse cases such as Yu’s.
Familial piety is so highly valued in the Asian culture, contributing to
the image of Asian Americans as a model minority, that many people,
including Asian Americans, don’t realize that senior abuse exists in
“The more a culture emphasizes a certain value, the harder for people
from this cultural background to openly talk about behaviors that go
against the value,” said Peter Cheng, executive director of
Community Center, which operates the only senior protection program in the Chinese
community in New York.
Cheng sensed something wrong two years ago when one of the elderly members
of his organization asked social workers there to help him fill out an
application for government housing.
He remembered that the man had purchased a co-op apartment several years
earlier, and the center had even hosted a celebratory party for him. “I
was very curious why he needed government housing, so I asked."
Cheng recalled, “He told me he spent his whole life savings to buy the
co-op apartment in his son’s name, [that he] only wanted to get the son
a good life. But now his son doesn’t want to live with him, and he was
Cheng surveyed other members and found that this man’s situation was not
unique. In response, Cheng launched the Chinese Americans Restoring Elders
) Project, the first and only senior protection program in
New York City
Project is run mainly with funds raised by the center and is operated by
one social worker and several volunteers. It takes about 30 cases
annually. “There are definitely more cases in the community, if only we
had funding to hire more staff,” Cheng said.
Vague Picture of Abuse
Nobody knows how many more elder abuse cases there are in
. Even in the mainstream community, the picture of senior abuse is at best
vague. Differing definitions and reporting processes among states make it
all but impossible to compile national statistics. According to NCEA, the
most recent studies, conducted in 2003 or earlier, show that merely one
out of six such cases is reported to authorities.
In New York
State, 25,000 elder abuse cases were reported to the Adult Protective Services
of the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) in 2009. But at least
five other government agencies also take senior abuse complaints. Also,
one person could call several agencies to complain. Because some cases can
be reported multiple times and many others go unreported, experts consider
current figures to be unreliable.
State Senator Jeffrey Klein proposed a bill in 2008 calling for the state
to establish a consolidated data system for elder abuse cases, but it
In addition, authorities don’t really know how many cases involve Asian
elders. New York State OCFS doesn’t track the racial backgrounds of the
victims. Nationally, a 1998 report by NCEA found Asians were involved in
fewer than one percent of domestic elder abuse cases, the least of all
races. But a 2001 report by Adult Protective Services of San Francisco
found Asians were involved in about 10 percent of the 2,121 cases reported
there in March of that year.
“Issues that affect the general public are often paid more attention
than those that affect people at certain ages or ethnicities,” said
NCEA’s Sharon Merriman-Nai. “Senior abuse is the type of social issue
flying under the radar.”
Justice Act to Help Millions
little known part of the massive health care reform law enacted last year
is the Elder Justice Act and the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act.
nonpartisan Elder Justice Coalition, which led the seven-year effort to
get the bill passed, called the new law “the most comprehensive federal
legislation ever to combat elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.”
act provides $757 million over four years to coordinate national research
and efforts to combat elder abuse and exploitation.
the first time, states will be able to tap into up to a total of $400
million to fund demonstration projects that will test how best to detect
and prevent elder abuse. Other funding will establish Elder Abuse, Neglect
to develop law enforcement expertise in detecting signs of abuse
among victims, who are often fearful of exposing their abusers.
support for the federal Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program will beef up
efforts to combat elder abuse in nursing homes, assisted living centers
and other settings. Long-term care facilities will also face new penalties
for retaliating against employees who file complaints against them or
report an institution for violations.
other provision, the Elder Justice Act includes funds to improve data
collection and dissemination; collect and distribute information local
authorities need to learn about best practices for running adult
protective services; and create a nationwide program for direct patient
access of national and state background checks on employees of
long-term care facilities.
For more information, visit these websites: National
Center on Elder Abuse, and
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