COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVN) -- As part of Older Americans Month, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has launched a new Elder Justice Initiative to increase the investigation and prosecution of elder abuse cases and improve victims’ access to services.

 “Older Ohioans are vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation for a number of reasons,” DeWine said. “Through the Elder Justice Initiative, the Attorney General’s Office will work with local officials and advocates to identify, investigate, and prosecute elder abuse cases and increase services to victims.”

Elder abuse can take the form of physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse; neglect, including abandonment; and financial exploitation, including exerting undue influence.

A Department of Justice study estimated in 2009 that about one in nine people 60 and older suffers abuse each year. However, DeWine says only about 8 percent of victims report the crime.

"For every case of elder abuse, neglect, exploitation, or self-neglect that is actually reported to authorities, it is estimated that about five more remain under-reported," he said.

According to the 2010 Census, 2.28 million Ohioans are over the age of 60. The number is projected to increase 29 percent to 2.95 million by 2020 and nearly 50 percent to 3.42 million by 2040, according to the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University. DeWine says that means there's potential for a significant increase in elder abuse cases in coming years. 

“We will work to complement and bridge the gap between existing systems that serve older adults, including Adult Protective Services and local law enforcement,” DeWine said. “Our goal is to identify areas of greatest need, connect with local officials to triage cases and identify gaps in services, and assist in investigations, prosecutions, and coordination of victim services.”

Patterns of abuse and exploitation are more readily identifiable in care facilities than in home settings, where incidents can occur in a more isolated environment with fewer opportunities to witness abuse. The Elder Justice Initiative will include an outreach component to educate community members, civil and elder law attorneys, aging advocates, and others on the signs of elder abuse.

You can report possible abuse to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office by calling 800-282-0515.