While the statute backed by the crime commission is intended largely to protect the aged, a finding that the victim is mentally incapacitated is key. For example, a woman accepting gifts from an elderly but competent suitor would not be prosecuted even if the man's family thought he was being victimized.
"The problem we've got is catching the people who need catching without catching the people we don't intend to get," said Michael Doucette of Lynchburg, president of the Virginia Commonwealth's Attorneys Association. "We don't want to draft a bill so broad that we get five zillion phone calls."
But advocates for the elderly agree that something must be done to curb the abuse.
"We're trying to raise awareness about it, but we also think penalties should be harsher and there should be a specific law," said David DeBiasi, state advocacy director for AARP Virginia.
Kathy Pryor, who heads the elder law practice at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said the crime commission-backed legislation might not be worded exactly the way she wants. But, she added,"it will give us something to build on in future years."
While the crime commission's support does not guarantee success, Doucette said it will give lawmakers a comfort level that is lacking when they try to hash out precise language during a hectic legislative session.