Elder Abuse is Everybody’s Business

Seniors Rights Victoria leading the charge in raising awareness on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV), a key program of Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria, is urging all Victorians this World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on 15th June, to accept that ‘Elder Abuse is Everybody’s Business’ and it is a timely reminder for Victorians to amplify their awareness as to what constitutes elder abuse and not to disregard any warning signs.

Seniors Rights Victoria, a Community Legal Centre, is the key state-wide service dedicated to stopping elder abuse. Supported by the Victorian Government, SRV operates under the principle of empowering older people. SRV provides information, support, advice, casework and education to help prevent and respond to elder abuse.

Dr Rebecca Edwards, Manager and Principal Lawyer of SRV says, ‘The warning signs of elder abuse may include an older person seeming fearful, anxious or isolated. There may be injuries or an absence of personal care. The disappearance of possessions, unexplained financial transactions, and changes to a will, property title or other documents are also of concern.’

‘While the mistreatment of an older person may be carried out by one family member, it is often other family members who are best placed to support their parent or grandparent against the abuse, provided they recognise what is happening.’

‘Like other forms of family violence, many incidents of elder abuse occurs behind closed doors, so it is important for loved ones to watch out for signs, listen and offer help.’

‘Older people can reduce the risk of elder abuse by making sure their financial, medical, legal and other affairs are clearly stated and recorded in legal documents and/or discussed within the family. Older people must also be empowered to recognise the signs of elder abuse and encouraged to state when they are not comfortable with an arrangement.’ Dr Edwards adds.

The 2021 National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), showed that one in six  (14.8%)  older Australians reported that they have experienced abuse in the 12 months prior to being surveyed, but concerningly, only about one-third of those sought third-party help to respond to the abuse. 

According to the Prevalence Study, elder abuse can take the form of psychological abuse (12%), neglect (3%), financial abuse (2%), physical abuse (2%) and sexual abuse (1%).

Other findings include:

  • Perpetrators of elder abuse are often family members, mostly adult children, but they can also be friends, neighbours and acquaintances.
  • People with poor physical or psychological health and higher levels of social isolation are more likely to experience elder abuse.
  • Elder abuse often remains hidden, with the most frequent action taken to stop the abuse involving the victim speaking directly to the perpetrator.
  • Family and friends are the most common source of support for older people who experience abuse
  • Adult children are the most likely to commit abuse. Men are more likely to commit abuse than women (55% cf. 45%) with sons twice as likely as daughters to commit specifically financial abuse.
  • The majority of elder abuse victims indicated they were aware that the perpetrator had one or more problems (72%). These problems included mental or physical health or financial problems.
  • Lower levels of social contact with family and friends were associated with a higher prevalence of elder abuse. Overall, 13.7% of participants who had face-to-face contact with their family and friends a few times a week or more frequently reported any type of abuse, compared with 17.8% who saw their friends and family less often than once a week.

According to Dr Edwards, elder abuse is a complex phenomenon as it involves family members and social connections to a very significant extent.

‘Each form of elder abuse involves different dynamics; therefore it is fundamental that policy and practice responses need to be tailored for different subtypes. A blanket approach is likely to be ineffective and those interventions need to be carefully designed for the specific subtype,’ Dr Edwards said.

‘As psychological abuse is the most common form of abuse and attracts the second-highest self-assessments of seriousness, this form of abuse also warrants more attention as well as continuing the significant focus on financial abuse and physical abuse.’

In SRV’s latest quarterly report on its Helpline calls, there was 985 Helpline contacts from 1st January –  31st March 2022), an increase of more than 100 contacts to the Helpline from the 2021 quarter (883 contacts).  The data also showed that there had been a steady increase in contacts to the Helpline since 2019

The quarterly Helpline data also indicates that the largest group of perpetrators of abuse against older people are the children of the older person (81%) with sons being the most common perpetrators of abuse (43%). This is consistent with SRV’s seven-year data report.

According to Dr Edwards, SRV’s latest quarterly report showcases that 34 per cent of the total contacts to the Helpline (985) were made by family members reflecting how important the inner family circle in calling out elder abuse.

‘Respectful relationships across the generations are critical for preventing all forms of family violence, including elder abuse.’

Tina Hogarth-Clarke, CEO, Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria, says while WEAAD is a significant day on the calendar, it is imperative that elder abuse is on top of the agenda for all Victorians, every day.

‘At COTA Victora, we are deeply committed to creating and sharing accessible resources for our older persons, who need the guidance and support to combat any incidents of elder abuse.’

‘Just as valued relationships within families help prevent family violence, respect for older family members, such as grandparents is a primary protection against elder abuse, particularly when it comes to a family’s financial arrangements and psychological support,’ Ms Hogarth-Clarke said.

As part of the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) event, SRV will also release a new resource specifically for grandparents, providing invaluable information on the importance of grandparents in family life and offer ways in which challenges faced by grandparents can be resolved.

According to Dr Edwards, the brochure, as an insightful and valuable resource, is aimed at grandparents who may be facing personal challenges and provides recommended strategies to assist in overcoming these obstacles.

‘SRV has seen situations where grandparents may be denied contact with their grandchildren due to complex family dynamics, family disputes, custody issues, illness, divorce or separation.  Grandparents may also feel pressured to provide financial or other support for their grandchildren, as well as being concerned about their grandchildren’s safety in the face of family violence,’ Dr Edwards said.

‘SRV is determined to provide the information, referrals and advice needed if grandparents are faced with these challenges.

‘Estrangement from grandchildren is often a complex situation, mixed with high levels of emotion and anxiety.  Through this all-new resource, SRV outlines the recommended support and steps for grandparents to follow.

‘The combination of SRV’s resources and its Helpline assists grandparents to maintain a connection with their grandchildren and have a sense of hope that a positive outcome may prevail.

Older Victorians experiencing elder abuse, or family members concerned about an older person, can get help by calling Seniors Rights Victoria on 1300 368 821 Monday to Friday, from 10 am to 5 pm or visit seniorsrights.org.au.

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