Breaking the Silence: Knox County district attorney general works to protect the elderly


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Many seniors aren’t just scared to report crimes against them, many are too proud to talk about it, embarrassed that this is happening to them.

Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen established the Elder Abuse Unit here. There wasn’t one in Tennessee until she took office in 2014. She was passionate about filling a void.

BREAKING THE SILENCE: Elder Abuse Awareness 

“As a child abuse prosecutor who really saw the vulnerabilities and special needs of the other end of the spectrum of children, and that got me to thinking about the elderly, the vulnerable and that we didn’t give them that special attention and so that really rang with me, really resonated. So when I took office, one of the first things I did was say I want to start an Elder Abuse Unit.”

The unit has one dedicated prosecutor, but also a support staff, and that’s not all. There’s also an investigative group called VAPIT, which stands for Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Team, made up of different agencies coming together.

Knox County was the first in Tennessee to start this. It’s mandatory by law that every community have VAPIT, but under Gen. Allen’s direction, Knox County is taking it several steps further.

“The law requires that every community meet at least four times a year. Here in Knox County, we meet 26 times a year. Every other week, that team of investigators gets together and processes cases,” Allen said.

Last year, the Knox County VAPIT team looked at more than 1,300 elder abuse cases in Knox County.
Allen says the number one crime against our seniors is financial abuse, followed by neglect, physical and sexual abuse.

“It’s staggering, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s also sad that this segment of our community – these are the folks that have raised us, that have protected us, that have brought us up. And then unfortunately in the majority of these cases, it is someone that the victim knows – perhaps a child, a grandchild, a caregiver –  that’s actually taking advantage of that older person who has spent their life dedicated to the perpetrator,” Allen said.

On the positive side, financial abuse, from a criminal standpoint, is the easiest to prove.

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