Criminal Justice Update
Media > Newsletters > On the Job: Criminal Justice Update > Spring 2016 > Q&A: Sylvia Pla-Raith, director of the Ohio Attorney General’s Elder Justice Initiative

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Criminal Justice Update

Q&A: Sylvia Pla-Raith, director of the Ohio Attorney General’s Elder Justice Initiative

The Elder Justice Initiative works with law enforcement, prosecutors, adult protective services and communities to identify, investigate and prosecute elder abuse cases; improve services for victims; and raise awareness about abuse.
How does the initiative work?

Typically, calls come in to the Attorney General’s Help Center. If the call involves an older victim, those cases are sent to me or Elder Services Coordinator Melanie Cooley. We talk to the person and find out whether they have filed a police report or talked to their local adult protective services. If they haven’t, we help them get in touch with those agencies. If they have, but they’re dissatisfied, we work with them to find other resources. Sometimes, we have to find resources to keep the investigation going. In one recent case, we reminded a police department that it can request help from the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI). Our customers are not only older victims, but also the professionals who help older victims.

Who else is involved?

We borrow resources from other units within the Attorney General’s Office. We have point people at BCI and the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA), and in the Consumer Protection, Special Prosecutions, Health Care Fraud and Crime Victim Services sections. I’m also part of the Attorney General’s Elder Justice Commission, a high-level multidisciplinary team that focuses on coordinating efforts and setting priorities to improve services for seniors.

What are some of the challenges you face?

In Cuyahoga County, where I used to work, we had a levy to support an array of services. Not all communities in Ohio have that level of support. Ever since I started with the Attorney General’s Office in November, I’ve been learning how to advocate for all of Ohio. The resources that are available are different from county to county and from rural areas to big cities. We want to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks.

How are you doing that?

We are trying to make sure there is no wrong door for elder victims. Getting help can be complicated; we want to simplify it by guiding victims through the process. To scammers and perpetrators, older people are especially targeted. Anyone can get scammed or be a victim of crime at any age, but older people are typically at home, have money, have landlines and are often isolated from others. Older adults are exploited by strangers who inundate them with mail and phone calls. There are some unscrupulous financial services professionals and untrustworthy caregivers. Once con artists have caught a person in a scam, they often go after the person again. We want to stop that from happening. Even if the police are taking care of the investigation, older victims might need additional social supports, which we often assist them with by providing service linkages to defer further victimization.

The Elder Justice Initiative is also concerned with education, right?
Yes, the trainings can be formal and offered through OPOTA for law enforcement, social workers and adult protective services, or they can be informal for groups or at senior centers. The most recent speech I delivered was for seniors and focused on how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. If any group wants one of us to come to a meeting, we are happy to speak. To prevent abuse and neglect, people must be able to recognize it and know how to report it.

What do you see happening in the future?

The Elder Justice Initiative is going to be focusing on developing more resources around the issue of financial exploitation, particularly helping people gain easy access to victim services and holding perpetrators accountable. In addition, we are also putting together an awareness campaign in conjunction with Ohio Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which is held annually on June 15. The event was launched 11 years ago by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations. Elder abuse is a global issue. The purpose of Ohio Elder Abuse Awareness Day is to provide an opportunity for communities to promote a better understanding of abuse, exploitation, and neglect of older victims by raising awareness of the cultural, social, and economic processes affecting elder maltreatment. 

The Pla-Raith File
Previous jobs: Chief supervisor, Cuyahoga County Adult Protective Services (2005-2015); director of care coordination, Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging (1990-2000); PASSPORT supervisor, Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging (1990-2000)
Education: Master of Arts in health and human services, John Carroll University; Bachelor of Science in psychology, The Ohio State University; license in social work
Family: Husband, Rob; daughter, Kalie, 23; and son, Mitchell, 21
Hobbies: Cooking Cuban dishes, entertaining, watching Ohio State football and rooting for the Indians
Contact: 614-466-3493; 30 E. Broad St., 14th Floor, Columbus, OH 43215;