In my sophomore year of college, I took a sociology course entitled Blaming The Victim. Exactly as the moniker suggests, the course focused on the propensity of society to take the easy way out and — rather than dedicating the manpower and resources necessary to alleviating a complicated and oftentimes insidious problem, which could very well have included going through the expense and difficulty of prosecuting those who preyed on the weak and vulnerable — instead, it rebuked, blamed, and essentially re-victimized the members of the community whose biggest crime was their reliance on a promise that help would be there if and when it was ever needed.I attended the classes, completed the required assignments, aced the exams, received a good grade, and congratulated myself on my newfound understanding of social injustice.
Thirty-something years later, all I can say is, I understood nothing!
I found this last summer on my return trip from Florida, where my crew and I had been filming a segment of Last Will and Embezzlement, a documentary film which examines the financial exploitation of the elderly. Though the impetus behind the film was the unspeakable exploitation of my elderly parents by a stranger who managed to insinuate himself into their lives when no-one was noticing, my family’s story is just a minor part of the overall project — because the issue is much, much bigger than just my family. It’s global. Wherever there are humans and money, people who are weak and others who are strong, there will always be snakes and vultures and other creatures of prey, laying in wait for the first opportunity to exhibit the worst humanity has to offer.
While awaiting my flight, I found myself chatting with a fellow traveler and, as I’ve done numerous times before and since, I mentioned the film and the events that sparked its creation. And that’s when it happened. This man, claiming years of law school and courtroom experience, launched into a series of accusatory declarations, berating me — the daughter — for not having done a better job of protecting my parents (as if I haven’t already said that to my mirror a hundred times!).
“There’s no WAY you have a case!” he pontificated. “If you were so damned concerned, lady, where were you five years ago? How come you didn’t put their money in trust?”
The pain of self-recrimination kept me from responding. All I could do was sit there and tell him, “I really don’t want to argue with you.”
In retrospect, there are a lot of things I might have said, first among them being that the operative phrase in his diatribe was their money. Taking away your parents’ rights — and their dignity in the process — is not something lightly done.
And, of course, it didn’t help that this came on the heals of a detective’s refusal to enforce Florida law and arrest the man whose actions are at the foundation of Last Will. She, too, laid the blame every place but where it belonged: “If you’d been closer to your mother, then you’d be the one with her money, not (this man, whose name I will not print).” The fact that my 91-year-old father is still alive and the money should actually be his — not mine, and certainly not this stranger’s — seems to have escaped this woman completely.
My second retort could have been that my family’s failure to put safeguards in place which might have prevented a theft that none of us, in our wildest dreams, would ever have foreseen, should not negate the perpetrator’s guilt, and my lack of prior planning should not exonerate him. Leaving the keys in one’s car, while careless, is not an open invitation for anyone walking down the street to slide in, drive off, and assume ownership.
But my critic was on a roll. It was my fault, plain and simple.
The elder law expert interviewed for the film, Attorney Ira Wiesner of Sarasota, Florida, made a point of saying it’s a fairly common occurrence for the adult children of elderly victims to blame themselves for their lack of foresight and their inability to prevent these types of crimes or protect their parents. We all face this, don’t we? As the generation before us ages, then becomes frail, our roles reverse, and suddenly we are thrown — untrained and unprepared — into the position of parenting our parents. And though we’ve all heard of instances where embezzlement and exploitation have taken place, it seems unreal and far removed, not something that could ever touch us directly. Not until it does.
The agony of watching my 91-year-old father, my hero, being transformed by the perpetrator from ‘larger than life’ into ‘nothing more than a pawn and a means to an end’, has been worse than what I lived through nearly twenty years ago when I was a cancer patient. At least then I had faith that everything would be okay.
But now, as a victim’s daughter, caught up in the woefully inadequate — indeed, pathetic — excuse for a law enforcement system which simply will not even attempt to make this right, there is no faith. Only loss.
Oh, God still watches over us. My dad’s Alzheimer’s has progressed to the point that he has no knowledge whatever of what’s been done. And I suppose in its own way, that’s a blessing. But it seems to me that after a lifetime of work — after having defended this country on the beaches of Normandy — my dad’s government owes him a bit more than remedy by dementia. It owes him some respect — and some justice.
Pamela S. K. Glasner is a published author, filmmaker, historian, and social advocate. Her website is www.starjackentertainment.com . She can also be found on Facebook.
Copyright by Pamela S. K. Glasner © 2011, All Rights Reserved