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Elder Abuse: Case Study of Melissa Ann Shepard

8 pages
1958 words
Vanderbilt University
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Elder abuse is a continuous act of mistreatment or oppression of a senior and happens in instances where a person is in a relationship, for example, within a family or caregiving environment, to the extent that the elderly individual gives them their trust. The World Health Organization places the age of an elderly member at between 60, and 65 or above also referred to as the retirement age (MacLennan, 2003). The old cannot defend themselves, and their mental capacity deteriorates with age. Hence, they are susceptible to exploitation by other people for selfish gains. In addition to this, other older persons who are widowed end up being lonely and any sign of companionship are easily confused with good intention. A good example is the case of Melissa Ann Shepard as shall be discussed below through the guidance of discussion questions.

Describe the types of elder abuse inflicted and the types in detail

Elder abuse can happen in many different ways all of which have an effect in one way or the other. Some forms of violence materialize with the full knowledge of the senior, and because of their helplessness, there is little that they can do to change the situation. This case is worse in instances where the abuser is related to them, and they depend on them for care. However, in other cases, the abuse can happen without the knowledge of the old person and hence, they cannot act on what they do not know. Lachs & Pillemer (2015) state that there are five primary forms of elder abuse including physical, verbal or psychological, sexual, financial or neglect.

Physical abuse occurs where an injury or pain is exerted on the physical body of the person. This cruelty can arise when a caregiver uses some form of force on their body, for example slapping, hitting or even beating of an elderly person. This act causes pain to the aged, and some can cause illnesses. For example, they can develop a headache resulting from hitting them on the head by their caregivers. In some of the institutions for the elderly persons, some of the employees may not be satisfied with their job descriptions hence met out their anger on the poor old persons. The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse states that some aged persons can be restrained from speaking out through the use of drugs, and this amounts to physical abuse.

Another form of abuse is through the use of words that causes emotional anguish for the elderly persons. These could be the caregiver complaining to the person that they are a burden and cannot fend for themselves or even embarrassing them before people. These utterances cause emotional turmoil for the elderly as they remember their younger days. Other elderly persons also suffer from neglectful practices. These happen when they are not cared for or provided with their essential needs such as medical care. Neglect can even occur in situations where they require companionship from their family including children, who are not available to give them company. Such occurrences, if prolonged results in the elderly becoming depressed hence contributing to their mental degradation.

Some elderly persons are exposed to sexual abuse from their caregivers. This exposure mainly occurs in instances where their caregivers are not family members or are people of the opposite sex. They may make inappropriate sexual advances towards the elderly persons hence causing them discomfort. Others may even make physical contact with them, therefore, adding to their psychological trauma. The final form of abuse is financial abuse. This kind of violence takes place where a party exploits the aging because of their money. It can happen where a caregiver uses the seniors property for example credit cards for their benefit and against their willpower or even changing their will without their approval.

Describe family dynamics

Family dynamics refer to how different family set-ups relate, get along or even bond with each other. Each family is different by their member composition, income, beliefs and way of life hence no one family can be the same with another. Rydell (2013) describes the family dynamics to include families with divorced parents and others with step-families while others have separated parents. Some families have solid relationships while others are in constant wrangles over different matters. Some of the causes of fights in families may be poverty or alcohol and drug abuse. Such families where the members do not get along so well may comprise the extended members including their grandparents. Hence, with the constant brawl, it may become cumbersome to care for the elderly.

Describe the account of perpetrators

Elderly abuse can be orchestrated by any member of their family including their children, spouses or even caregivers from outside the family. In the case of Melissa Ann Shepard, she was the perpetrator of the abuses meted out against her husbands. In her interview with The Fifth Estate, she recounts her marriages with the different parties and their subsequent deaths. Her second husband, Gordon Stewart, whom she married in 1992, died as a result of her running him over with a car. Melissa described her marriage to Stewart as an abusive relationship that led to him raping her and in self-defense and the heat of the passion; she retaliated by running over him with a car. She, however, did not agree that she had a motive for killing him but that she ran over him in a bid to get away from him. Her account is less convincing as Stewart had been heavily drugged and hence incapable of committing such acts. However, Melissa maintains her story by saying that she ran over him twice, and that the second time was also not intentional as she thought that she had hit a log and not Stewart.

Describe how long it went on before detection and how it was discovered

Melissas first marriage was in 1970 to Russell Shepard but ended in divorce. Since then, she married four other different husbands between 1992 and 2012 (Mellor, 2012). Her misfortune with husbands continued after her divorce with her first husband. Melissa ran over her second husband in 1992 after a supposed rape and in her bid to escape from him. She was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison but only served two because of her virtuous conduct. Her third husband, Robert Friedrich also died after marrying her in 2000 due to a drug overdose after being continually in and out of drugs administered by Melissa. His death left her with his estate to use at her disposal despite challenges in court by the deceaseds sons. The sons also went to court suspecting Melissas involvement in their fathers death, but there was insufficient evidence to support their claim.

In 2005, she married another man, Alexander Strategos in Florida who she met through online dating. However, soon after their marriage, Alexander started having blurred visions and collapsed a couple of times ending up in the hospital. His son, Dean, suspected foul play and also found traces of benzodiazepine drugs in his fathers laboratory results which were not part of his prescribed drugs. In addition to this, his fathers bank account started running out. Alexander soon got admitted to a nursing home, and the court sentenced Melissa to five years in prison for other charges including grand theft and forgery. Her final victim was Fred Weeks, another survivor of her drugs, after a long time in recovery in the hospital. Fred Weeks also survived two murder attempts through poisoning from Melissa. Soon after Weeks recovery, the police arrested Melissa in 2012, and her pattern realized when Chief Justice Phillip Kennedy made the statement that people who have contact with this lady should be careful. In addition to this, an order was also given forbidding her from accessing the internet.

What medical treatment was necessary in the case?

Melissa, being a perpetrator of violence against her husbands had power over them because she administered drugs to them against their will. These drugs weakened their mental resolution to her advantage. For the deceased husbands, traces of the used drug, benzodiazepine, was found in their systems after their deaths. However, in the case of the two survivors Alexander and Fred Weeks, the drugs were discovered in their systems early enough. For Alexander, his son Dean was very alert and skeptical of his fathers marriage to Melissa hence the presence of benzodiazepine in his system was a call for alarm. As a result, Melissa took off knowing that Dean had blown her charade. However, the best treatment that could have been accorded to the two surviving victims was quick medical attention. In the case of Alexander, he should have seen a doctor immediately after his first episode of blurred visions and collapsing while in the presence of Melissa. The same applies to Weeks, who had a similar episode while they were on honeymoon. With the help of the owner of bed and breakfast, they should have seen a doctor immediately and tried to determine the source of the drugs in his system.

Identify whether there have been any court cases associated with the defendant

The defendant, in this case, Melissa Ann, had appeared before the court on very many charges since her first marriage in 1977. The charges against her have ranged from manslaughter ,forgery, grand theft to fraudulent acts. However, with relation to the death of her husband, her first arraignment in court was in 1992 on a charge of manslaughter after she ran over her husband Stewart twice with a car instantly killing him. After serving two years, she was released on parole. In 2005, another case was brought before the court following her marriage to Mr. Strategos and charged with exploitation of the elderly when she convinced Mr. Strategos through drugging, to sign over his power of attorney to her. The prosecution also charged her with fraud and forgery among other charges. She pleaded guilty to several counts and the court sentenced her to five years in prison. In 2012, she married Weeks, and after his almost near-death experience while driving after being drugged by Melissa, she was arrested again and sentenced to three years in prison.

Detail in your own words why you believe this abuse occurred

Melissa committed these acts of felony out of hubris. She wanted to obtain the money of these old men, and therefore sought to kill them subtly, leaving her as the legal guardian of the estates. This proposition is supported by the fact that she killed men to whom she was married and even tried to sign over their powers of attorney to herself. Furthermore, her acts show a willful execution of the crime. During her interview with The Fifth Estate, she states that the death of her second husband was an accident. She says that she did not mean to kill him but was trying to escape after he had raped her. However, investigations into her story proved futile after the police established that Mr. Stewart had been so drugged and incapable of committing the acts propounded by Melissa. The investigation also determined that Mr. Stewart would have still died because the level of the tranquilizer in his system was too high. In addition to this, if Mr. Stewart had indeed done as Melissa alleged, running over him twice was unwarranted. Further, after the murder, Melissa appeared in the police station to report the murder herself. In her statement, she remarks that she did not know that Mr. Stewart was there after running over him the first time as she thought that she had hit a log of wood. This story does not hold water, and it is evident that Melissa killed her husband by running over him twice.

Clearly, Identify missed interventions

The first instance where an intervention occurred in Melissas marriage malpractices was to Robert Friedr...

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