Elderly Abuse in Australia

February 21, 2018

We’ve seen the media attention lately

Finally, people are talking about elderly abuse. This topic should envoke outrage as those who have looked out for us, raised us, feed us, clothed us and paved the way for us are suffering in silence no more. This topic has found its way into the light and it is imperative that we all are called to action and look out for those who looked out for us.

Click here to see our info graphic on Elderly abuse in Australia

What is elderly abuse?

Elder Abuse is categorised in the same manner as other forms of abuse, including but not limited to a single or continual incident of:

• Physical Abuse
• Psychological Abuse
• Financial Abuse
• Social Abuse
• Sexual Abuse
• Neglect
• Anything else that causes the elderly person distress or harm

These abuses can be caused by anyone in any type of relationship with the elderly person, for whom the elderly person has an expectation of trust. This means a perpetrator could be anyone that is known to the elderly person – such as a family member, carer, medical staff or even the mail deliverer – and who is not a complete stranger. Elder abuse does not include a one-off attack by a stranger, nor does it include self-harm or neglect.

Elder abuse differs to other forms of family violence on a number of levels. Firstly, there is an emphasis on the ‘expectation of trust’ that an elderly person has for their abuser. Some (but certainly not all) elderly victims are at a stage in their lives where they may need extra care to function day to day. Because of this, the dynamics of a victim/perpetrator relationship are much like that of a caregiver and child; however, any person within even a part-time caregiver role is expected to be extremely cautious of maintaining a level of dignity and self-autonomy for their charge. It can be difficult for often stressed and overburdened carers not to slip into an abusive role, so elder abuse is unfortunately much more prevalent than most people first assume.

Another factor that’s at play in regards to elder abuse is the dynamics of the male / female role in the currently-aged generation. As mentioned, younger generations have been brought up on a steady stream of anti-violence and empowerment of women – something that was not often reinforced in our older counterparts. The older generation placed a lot of emphasis on the stereotypical strong, dominating male role model and this has caused a power imbalance, which is thought to be an antecedent to violence within a relationship. Other contributing factors include ageism and cultural barriers.

How prevalent is it in Australia?

Considering the lack of publicity elder violence receives, it’s prevalent enough in the current time, that Attorney-General George Brandis has recently made an announcement that there will be an inquiry held into the laws and frameworks that protect older Australians from these abuses, beginning in mid-2017. Until this point in time though, elder abuse has been a difficult problem to measure, due to underreporting. Again, much of the underreporting is a symptom of the older generation’s attitude to privacy, loyalty, and shame, brought on by a belief that one shouldn’t ‘air their dirty laundry’ or that one needs to be tough and uncomplaining. Where a case is brought to light, oftentimes charges will not be prosecuted, as the lengthy court process is a huge deterrent for victims.

The statistics that are available, while sketchy, show that abuse may be occurring to around 2% to 10% of the elderly population and this is expected to rise in the future, with Australia’s Ageing population.

Who are the victims?

Australia’s older population is made up of a higher percentage of women than men; however, the majority of victims of elder abuse are women. Men, though, are more likely to be subject to abandonment. The pool of victims is proportionately higher for those who are:

• Being cared for and dependent
• Experiencing general family conflict
• Living with social, physical or psychological isolation
• Being cared for by a person with a substance addiction
• Experiencing financial stress
• Experiencing psychological conditions or cognitive decline

As well as those with a carer who does not have access to respite care and other carer resources.

Who are the offenders?

Despite the earlier mention of the role of gender imbalance upon elder abuse, over 47% of perpetrators are actually women. The majority of abusers overall (including many of the percentage of women) are the adult children of the elderly person. These statistics are thought to be primarily due to the fact that adult female children are most likely to be the primary carer of their aging parents; however, there are no real identified indicators of why elder abuse is being perpetrated by this cohort.

There are, however, a number of factors that are thought to increase the chances of abuse, and – in line with those mentioned in the victim’s section, above – these include, but are not limited to:

• Carer stress and over-dependence (including physical or emotional demand)
• Lack of respite care
• General family conflict,
• Carer or victim isolation
• A carer who is suffering from mental illness or drug abuse
• Financial difficulties
• A lack of understanding of how to provide quality care
• Lack of recognition or appreciation
• A carer who is caring for more than one person (i.e., a carer who is looking after both parents, or also looking after young children)
• Co-dependency (i.e., one elderly person caring for another, where both are frail, physically or emotionally impaired in some way)

What resources are there to help?

Thankfully, there is plenty of help available to those experiencing elder abuse, as well as those at risk of perpetrating it.

If you yourself are being abused, you can:

• Call the emergency assistance line (police or ambulance) on Triple Zero (000)
• Call the Elder Abuse Helpline on the free call number 1800 628 221, which will give you access to a caring individual who can give you advice, support, and referrals. You can also visit the Elder Abuse Hotline website at http://www.elderabusehelpline.com.au/
• Accessing help and resources from your state’s government website, or other websites, such as My Aged Care
• Obtain legal support from a law firm who understands your needs, such as CM Law

If you know someone that’s being abused, you can:

• Contact emergency services if required
• Call the Elder Abuse Hotline (details above)
• Reassure them by letting them know help is available
• Let them know they are not at fault for what is happening
• Avoid criticism of the victim or abuser
• Ask them if they’d like to talk and ensure they can do so in a safe, secure location
• Ensure that you continue to offer assistance, even if they don’t appear to want it initially
• Allow them full autonomy to make their own decisions
• Explain to them how to get help and access resources (show them this article or link them to the above-mentioned list of resources).
• Contact the Office of the Public Guardian, who will help adults with impaired capacity
• Help them make a move away from the abuser, if possible
• Help them seek legal advice

There are a number of interventions you can help with, for those experiencing elder abuse, including removing the victim from the situation, organising counselling or support groups, organising respite care for the carer, helping to find alternative accommodation, helping to set up Centrelink payments and assisting the elderly person in seeking police assistance or legal advice.

Of course, the best course of action is prevention, so if you feel you may be at risk of elderly violence – or know someone who may be at risk – it is imperative that you seek help before the situation deteriorates.

What are the legal issues surrounding the topic?

Legal interventions are sometimes unavoidable and charges may need to be laid in cases where physical or financial abuse is occurring. Elderly people who are competent can pursue legal services independently; otherwise, a support person (who is not the abuser) may be necessary and these can be accessed via the Elder Abuse Hotline, the My Aged Care website or through a Centrelink Social Worker.

In a domestic violence situation, the police may need to be contacted if the victim wishes to implement a Protection Order. For victims who are unable to make decisions, an application can be made to the Civil and Administrative Tribunal in your state.

For assistance with any or all of these steps, you can contact a reputable legal firm who have experience with elder abuse, such as CM Law.

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