‘We need to rock the boat when it comes to ending elder abuse’

Jul 25, 2019
"Elder abuse breeds in a culture of silence. We must bring it into the open." Source: Getty

What is ‘Elder Abuse’? Before discussing this question, it may be helpful to define what is meant by the term. There are many definitions to be found and they are slightly different in different states. However, the following from the Seniors Rights Victoria is quite comprehensive:

“Elder abuse is any act which causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust. The abuser may be a:

son or daughter
grandchild
partner
other family member
friend
neighbour

Abuse can be unintentional or deliberate. The harm caused to an older person may range from the unintended effects of poor care through to serious physical injury inflicted deliberately. Harm can also include emotional harm and financial loss including the loss of a home and belongings.

The older person may be dependent on the abuser, for example, if they rely on the abuser for care. It is also common for the abuser to depend on the support of the older person, for example for accommodation. Sometimes, there may be a codependent relationship where both the older person and the abuser depend on each other.”

We tend to assume elder abuse happens only in institutions and a recent example on Queensland’s Gold Coast did nothing to dispel that assumption. Sadly, statistics show that people in a position of trust are the most frequent abusers. And so we come to the proposition, must there be punishment for abusers?

Consider this, someone you trust is:

  • threatening you with violence, humiliating or harassing you (emotional abuse)
  • denying you the basic necessities (neglect)
  • emptying your bank account, or selling your assets for their own benefit, forcing you to sign documents you don’t want to sign (financial abuse)
  • inflicting pain by hitting or otherwise injuring you (physical abuse)
  • keeping you away from other family, friends, or services (social abuse)
  • forcing you to endure any type of sexual activity to which you do not consent

What do you do? Do you want to send a loved one to jail? Or is the most important thing to just have the abuse stop?

This is a dilemma for those who want to see the perpetrators brought to justice; some of the victims will not report the abuse as long as it goes away!

A professional in the field of financial abuse told me that by the time his organisation becomes aware of the abuse, they rarely recover anything. The assets and money are often long gone, some even claim in their defence that it was all coming to them anyway in the Will, so what harm has been done.

Should we insist on mandatory reporting? Should the perpetrator be brought to justice irrespective of the will of the wishes of the victim? Can we trample on the victim’s dignity by patronisingly telling them we know what is best!

Among the mandatory reporters suggested are doctors, paramedics, health professionals (such as visiting nursing services), legal professionals, clergy and banks. In some states of Australia, banks have voluntarily agreed to report suspected financial abuse with a huge increase in the number of financial abuse cases being reported.

Is this mandatory reporting in itself an abuse of the older person’s right to make their own choices?

I am not an expert and I have no answers for these questions except as they apply to me. My head says “lock up the perpetrator and throw away the key”, but would I be prepared to do that to a family member or would my heart make the decision? I would like to think that if paramedics came to my home on numerous occasions because I had fallen down the stairs (in a home where there are no stairs) and I was too cowered to ask for help, that someone would throw me a proverbial lifeline.

One thing I do know — elder abuse breeds in a culture of silence. We must bring it into the open. If you suspect someone you know is a victim, please speak up!

Where you can report elder abuse

Queensland — Elder Abuse Prevention Helpline: 1300 651 192
Victoria — Seniors Rights Helpline: 1300 368 821
New South Wales — Elder Abuse Helpline and Resource Unit: 1800 628 221
ACT — Older Persons Abuse Prevention Referral and Information Line: 02 6205 3535
South Australia — Aged Rights Advocacy Services (ARAS): 1800 700 600
Western Australia — Elder Abuse Helpline: 1300 724 679
Tasmania — Elder Abuse Helpline: 1800 005 131

Do you know of instances of financial, physical, emotional or sexual abuse of an older person? Would you know who to contact to discuss such instances?

The author attended the National Elder Abuse Conference as a guest of Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia (ADA Australia). ADA Australia is a not-for-profit, independent, community-based advocacy and education service supporting and improving the wellbeing of older people and people with disability. The opinions shared in this blog are the author’s own.

Stories that matter, delivered straight to your inbox

Sign up to our daily newsletter for more great stories

Leave your comment

Please sign in to post a comment.
Retrieving conversation…