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This bold ad campaign raises awareness about elder abuse
Subway and bus riders in New York City are accustomed to staring up at ads for liposuction and cosmetic dentistry, but in April and May 2016 they could ponder a striking new series of public service advertisements, courtesy of the NYC’s Department for the Aging (DFTA). In stark black and white photography, each ad featured a large close-up of an elderly person staring back, over simple text such as “ROBBED by her nephew” or “BEATEN by her grandson.” The message beneath: “Elder abuse hits close to home,” with a reminder to seek help for abuse victims from 311, the City’s 24-hour Call Center, or from 911 if the older person is in imminent danger.
The ads stand out for their artistic quality, simplicity and unmistakable message, that elder abuse crosses ethnic and gender lines and takes many forms – and that there are resources available to help.
The campaign had its genesis in July 2015, when DFTA received increased funding to do more outreach and serve more elder abuse clients. “Under the Radar,” a groundbreaking 2011 report on the prevalence of elder abuse and under-reporting in New York State pointed up the growing problem, says Caryn Resnick, Deputy Commissioner of the DFTA.
More recently, the pressing need for better communication and messaging to raise awareness about elder abuse was further underscored in the FrameWorks Institute’s research report, “You Only Pray that Somebody Would Step In”: Mapping the Gaps Between Expert and Public Understandings of Elder Abuse in America (January 2016) and in Dr. Laura Mosqueda’s comments before the Elder Justice Coordinating Council (April 2016).
“We wanted to emphasize that elder abuse happens every day, everywhere in the City, and that it ‘hits close to home,’ as the ads say,” explains Resnick. “We wanted people to understand that you don’t have to be in a nursing home, or be poor or have dementia to be an elder abuse victim. Because elder abuse is so often perpetrated by family members, anyone is vulnerable. And we wanted to get the message across that it could be happening to a neighbor, a friend, to their own older relative.”
Measuring the impact of an awareness campaign is not easy, because the impact may not be immediate. But so far, the response to the ads has been positive, says Resnick, with an increase in calls to 311 about elder abuse situations. Those calls are referred for follow-up to appropriate community elder abuse services providers. DFTA has also accepted an offer from FY-Eye, an organization that helps nonprofits highlight powerful messages for the public, to host the images on its digital signage network, where it will reach thousands of additional viewers and potentially be downloaded, which can be tracked.
Resnick adds that the agency plans to distribute posters of the Elder Abuse Campaign images to its senior center and NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) programs and to any programs that request them. The images are also currently on the DFTA’s website and Facebook page. Placement in local newspapers is another possibility, alongside listings of community partners.
For municipalities considering launching a similar public awareness campaign, Resnick offers this advice: “First, make sure your message is clear, and second, make sure you can meet the demand the campaign will hopefully generate for information, assistance, and services.
By Risa Breckman, Director, NYC Elder Abuse Center