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Department of Human Services

Adult and Aging Division

For Immediate Release

Purple flags on display in Sonoma County serve as reminder of need for protecting elders from abuse

SANTA ROSA, CA | June 16, 2023

En español »

More than 6,000 purple flags are on display at local senior centers, police stations and other locations during the month of June to spotlight the toll of elder and dependent adult abuse that takes place in the shadows of Sonoma County each year.

June is Elder Abuse Awareness month, and a campaign is underway to draw attention to the issue of abuse and encourage the public to reach out if they are concerned about the health or well-being of elders in their life. The initiative is led by the Sonoma County Human Services Department’s Adult Protective Services, a program of the Adult & Aging Division, and Senior Advocacy Services, a Petaluma nonprofit that supports older adults.

On June 6, the Board of Supervisors proclaimed June as Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Awareness Month to bring more attention to this issue. Throughout the month, purple flags will be on display representing the number of reports of suspected abuse in Sonoma County last year. The flags are visible at 18 locations across the county, including nine senior centers, the Family Justice Center, the county Adult & Aging Division, and local police stations.

“We want to bring this issue out into the light with this display of purple flags, which is a graphic representation of the volume of elder abuse cases reported to the county,” said Supervisor Chris Coursey, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. “We know many more cases go unreported. If you or someone you know is the victim of elder abuse, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out for help. We have people standing by ready to assist you.”

Approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60 and up have experienced some form of elder abuse, according to a study cited by the National Council on Aging. Only 1 in 24 cases of abuse are reported to authorities, according to another study cited by the same organization.

The county’s Adult Protective Services program received 6,029 reports of suspected elder and dependent adult abuse last year. Another 949 cases of alleged abuse were reported to Senior Advocacy Services’ Ombudsman program, which investigates allegations of abuse in nursing homes and other care facilities. Combined, the two agencies received 6,978 reports of suspected abuse, an increase of nearly 8 percent from 2021.

The increase was driven by a number of factors, including the rising number of seniors in Sonoma County, increased awareness of the problem, and training around elder abuse and mandated reporting, said Paul Dunaway, director of the Adult & Aging Division.

“The urgency and complexity of this issue is growing,” Dunaway said. “The county’s collective trauma from fires, public safety power shutoffs, limited access to affordable housing, and the COVID-19 pandemic have disproportionately harmed older and other at-risk adults. Isolation created by these events can make people more vulnerable to abuse.”

Protect elders in your life by engaging with them. Isolation is a leading risk factor for abuse and neglect. Know the signs of abuse, which can take many different forms. They include:

  • Physical: Hitting, kicking, over or under medicating.
  • Sexual exploitation: Unwanted sexual contact or sexual exploitation.
  • Abandonment: Desertion or willful disregard by anyone having responsibility for care.
  • Isolation: Preventing an older or dependent adult from receiving mail, telephone calls, visitors.
  • Financial: Theft, misuse of funds or property, extortion, fraud.
  • Neglect: Failure to provide food, clothing, shelter or health care.
  • Self-neglect: Failure to provide food, clothing, shelter, or health care for one’s self.
  • Mental suffering: Verbal assaults, threats, humiliation.

Report suspected abuse to Adult Protective Services via a 24-hour hotline (707-565-5940 or 800-667-0404) or secure web form. To report suspected abuse within a care facility, you may also contact the Ombudsman 24 hours a day (707-526-4108 or 800-231-4024).

For information on resources for seniors and people with disabilities, call the county’s Adult & Aging Division at (707) 565-INFO (4636).

Learn more about elder and dependent adult abuse by participating in an event during Elder Abuse Awareness Month. View a calendar of events on the Senior Advocacy Services website.

If you work with an organization that would like to participate in the awareness campaign, contact Donata Mikulik, elder justice coordinator at Senior Advocacy Services.


Media Contacts:
Kristen Font, Communications Specialist
Sonoma County Human Services Department
(707) 565-8085

Paul Dunaway, Director, Adult & Aging Division
Sonoma County Human Services Department
(707) 565-3673