With the release of Harper Lee's long-awaited second novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” this week, there’s been a renewed discussion about whether or not the book is the result of what’s called “elder abuse.”
Elder abuse, according to the Administration on Aging, is “a term referring to any knowing, intentional or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.”
Elder abuse can range from issues of neglect and abandonment to physical and emotional abuse. In the case of the accusations surrounding Harper Lee, the issue seems to be what the AOA calls “exploitation.”
As The New York Times reported last March, just after Lee’s publisher, HarperCollins, revealed that it would be publishing her previously unreleased manuscript, “doubts arose” that they were doing so with full consent. These doubts even led to an investigation by the state of Alabama.
“The fact that the state has undertaken an inquiry highlights the scrutiny that Ms. Lee’s publisher and lawyer are facing as they prepare to release one of the most hotly anticipated titles in decades,” The Times’ Serge F. Kovaleski, Alexandra Alter and Jennifer Crossley Howard wrote.
However, as USA today reported a month later, the investigation concluded that there was no evidence of elder abuse in the case of Lee.
“Lee was able to answer questions about the book to investigators' satisfaction,” Today reported.
But as the Twitter hash tag #elderabuse will attest, the investigation did little to calm nerves about Lee’s relationship with her publisher. Controversy has been stoked even further by the possible discovery of another manuscript that her publisher reportedly wants to release.
Lee’s case, though imperfect as it is, acts as a fascinating high-profile introduction to what up to 10 percent of adults experience.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, an “overwhelming number” of cases of abuse toward the elderly go unreported and untreated. In fact, it’s estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse is ever given proper attention.
Last month, President Barack Obama declared June 12, 2015, to be Elder Abuse Awareness Day, a tradition started during the Bush administration.
“Every year, millions of older Americans experience abuse, neglect or exploitation,” the president said in a statement. “They are our friends and neighbors, and our parents, grandparents and loved ones, and we must do more to change this unacceptable reality. “
The president has continued his push to protect the elderly, arguing on Monday that “we have to work to do more to ensure that every older American has the resources and the support they need to thrive.”
“Our nation has a proud commitment to combating other types of abuse,” Next Avenue’s Bob Blancato wrote for Forbes. “Yet, for reasons that puzzle advocates like myself, our society, especially Congress, is much slower to grasp and respond to elder abuse. “
Even though there’s no clear link to elder abuse in the case of Harper Lee and her bombshell book release, it’s at least brought the issue front and center.
JJ Feinauer is a writer for Deseret News National. Email: [email protected], Twitter: jjfeinauer.