Wanda (not her real name) took out a home equity loan on her Waianae house. She intended to renovate her home so that her adult daughter could move in, care for Wanda and help repay the loan. Once the $290,000 was in their joint checking account, however, her daughter withdrew it and took her family on a first-class trip to Disney World. Wanda has not seen her daughter for two years and is now going through the foreclosure process.

Steve (not his real name) was the caregiver of his disabled sister and had established a sizable savings account for her care. When Steve’s daughter offered to help care for her aunt, Steve gladly accepted and gave her access to the bank account. After six months of being a caregiver, she withdrew all the money from the bank account (about $120,000) and moved in with her new boyfriend.

These are just two calls I got recently from victims who wanted to report what happened to them, but did not want the police to get involved. Their voices were full of despair and frustration. Each could not believe what had happened, and despite the fact that they were informed a crime had occurred, did not want the police or the court system to get involved — even if that was the only way to get their money back.

As a deputy prosecuting attorney in charge of the Elder Abuse Unit, I advocate that all cases of financial abuse be reported to the police, even if the person taking the money is an adult child or another relative of the victim. It is not blind faith in the criminal justice system that leads me to this school of thought. Twenty years of experience has proven to me repeatedly that showing “tough love” and calling the police on a loved one who has stolen money is actually helping that person stop a behavior, like drug usage, which will prove harmful to them in the long run.

More than once have I had parents call me up years after their child had been arrested to thank me for the work our office and the court system did to help their child get their life back on track. Drugs, alcohol, gambling or mental health issues have ruined the lives of many people and have caused family to victimize family. Oftentimes, those suffering from these afflictions will promise their kupuna they will get help, only to later on steal from them to feed their habit. Police intervention gives these people opportunities to either go to counseling or go to jail. Often they choose to get help and rehabilitation, with good results.

If you are in a situation where you have been the victim of a crime committed by someone you know, please call the police. There is no shame in reporting a loved one’s destructive actions to someone who can force them into a rehabilitation program or other help they may need. It’s hard to do, but that is why it’s called “tough love.”


To report suspected elder abuse, contact the Elder Abuse
Unit at:808-768-7536 | ElderAbuse@honolulu.gov