Mental health professionals need a better understanding of elder abuse and the challenges people face as they age.
Historically, family violence services have been under-resourced and poorly placed to respond to marginalised communities. Faced with extra barriers to getting help, people from diverse communities have often been placed at greater risk of family violence.
As part of its reform package following the watershed 2016 report of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Victorian Government established the Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor, a role responsible for holding the government and its agencies to account for implementation of statewide family violence reform.
The advocates working at Seniors Rights Victoria offer information and assistance to these callers, who can often be distressed. Seniors Rights Victoria currently has a Help Sheet which contains suggestions about what to do in these situations. This includes tips for the concerned family member or friend on listening to the older person with an open mind, letting them know help is available and encouraging and supporting the older person to contact Seniors Rights Victoria.
Seniors Rights Victoria frequently works with the older person and a supportive family member together to tackle their problems. From this work with concerned family and friends, Seniors Rights Victoria is aware that more support is needed.
To meet this need, Seniors Rights Victoria will next year extend their assistance for concerned family members and friends of older people experiencing abuse through a project that will produce a more comprehensive booklet. This booklet will be developed in consultation with people who can provide input into the topics and content. It will contain information on supporting the older person being abused and referral to appropriate services. The booklet is another way of achieving the commitment of Seniors Rights Victoria preventing elder abuse in the community and supporting those being abused and mistreated.
The following case study shows how we try to help people who are worried about an older person who they are close to.
Candice* called the Helpline regarding her mother, Betty, who is 85 years old and lives in her own home. Candice’s brother Bruce has been living with Betty on and off all his life. He has a history of mental illness and drug addiction. Candice told the helpline advocate that Bruce is not paying his way and treats her mother poorly, but that Betty is too scared to do anything about it. Candice doesn’t think her mother will call Seniors Rights Victoria to discuss the situation.
The Helpline advocate listens to Candice’s concerns. The advocate explains Seniors Rights Victoria’s role and discusses strategies for Candice to encourage Betty to make contact through the Helpline.
“We also tell her to tell her mother that we are a free and confidential service and that we will not make her mother do anything she doesn’t want to do,” said Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey.
If Betty is willing to participate in an advice call, one of SRV’s lawyers can provide her with legal advice about her legal options, and an Advocate will be able to talk to Betty about supports available to her – and even to Bruce, if he will accept them.
The Helpline Advocate will also talk directly to Candice about what some of those supports may be in case Betty doesn’t want to talk with one of Senior Rights Victoria’s lawyers or advocates.
A few weeks later Candice calls with Betty on the line and introduces her to the Advocate who explains SRV service. After some discussion and reassurance, Betty agrees to an appointment with a lawyer and advocate. We take some details from Betty and make a time to call her back when it suits her and when she is in a place where she feels safe.
“We explain that we will need to talk to Betty on her own (without Candice present) to ensure that she isn’t being unduly influenced by Candice, but, with Betty’s consent, we can talk with Candice after we speak with Betty,” Ms Blakey said. “This process supports our service’s primary ethos which is to empower and advocate on behalf of the older person.”
*Names have been changed to maintain privacy and protect the confidentiality of our clients.
The Yarra Ranges Council project was released for this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in June. The video features poems written and spoken by the reference group members, about the isolation and negativity people feel while experiencing elder abuse.
Earlier this year, students read these poems and discussed the issue in a workshop, before drawing specific parts of the poems. These drawings were then animated by local animator, Al MacInnes.
Yarra Ranges Mayor, Councillor Len Cox, said he hoped the video would help to raise awareness of abuse in the community.
“Elder abuse is a serious issue, and it comes in many forms, from physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual abuse, and it can include mistreatment and neglect,” Cr Cox said.
“This abuse is often carried out by people the victims know and trust, such as family members and friends, and victims rarely speak out.
“Abuse is never okay, and we cannot let this continue to happen to our vulnerable older adults in the community.
The Our Watch project will also create guidelines for reporting related to Aboriginal women, culturally diverse women, women with disabilities, older women and the LGBTI community. Seniors Rights Victoria is participating in the consultations of this project.
“The media is a powerful shaper of culture and attitudes. Language focused on equality and respect for all can change the culture that leads to violence against women,” said Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence Natalie Hutchins. “Ending family violence in Victoria requires change on all fronts.”
To read more about the State Government’s objectives, go to Promoting Respect.
A Victorian Government funded project, the Elder Abuse Prevention Network (EAPN) will operate at 10 sites in regional, outer urban and metropolitan areas at an individual and community level, to raise awareness and educate communities about the rights of older people.
Senior Rights Victoria EAPN Project Officer Alexia Huxley said seven sites have been chosen for the networks. They are being run by different organisations including several community health services, a community legal centre and local councils.
The confidential community survey is being conducted by independent consultants Think Impact with the results to be provided to the organisations participating in the prevention work, and included in a guide to prevent elder abuse. No individuals will be identified in these documents.
The short survey is voluntary, with participants not asked to provide any personal information.
“We understand that some people may find this topic difficult. If they do not wish to answer any questions, they are welcome to leave questions blank,” Ms Huxley said.
She said the community was gradually becoming more aware about the mixture of factors causing elder abuse, including lack of respect and valuing of older people, negative media messages that portray older people as a drain on society and behaviour that overlooks or justifies elder abuse.
“These attitudes can be internalised by older people themselves who may also consider that family matters are private and should not be shared, or may feel ashamed of the behaviour of their adult children and not want to ask for assistance,” Ms Huxley said.
In an effort to address some of these issues, the networks are targeting older people’s organisations as well as service agencies, including influential community members – such as pharmacists, librarians and religious leaders – who come into contact with older people and encourage them to see eliminating elder abuse as a matter of social justice.
If this survey raises questions or causes any distress, or you would like to discuss an incident of elder abuse, please contact the free, confidential Helpline of Seniors Rights Victoria: 1300 368 821. If you need help immediately call Lifeline on 131114.
Seniors Rights Victoria Principal Lawyer Rebecca Edwards and Community Lawyer Tabitha O’Shea presented the case study of Linda, a single, retired academic aged in her 70s, who had agreed to sell her house and contribute 50 per cent, a total of $500,000, to the purchase of a home by her daughter Gina and Gina’s family, husband Mike and two sons. The plan was that Linda would live in a self-contained section of the house. Sadly, once the move was made Linda was subjected to increasing verbal abuse and threats to kick her out of the home.
Unfortunately, as Seniors Rights Victoria workers often discover, Linda was not included on the title of the home. This led to an application to VCAT to determine the ownership of the property and to force a sale. It was a slow, difficult and emotional process to get a better outcome for Linda, whose health deteriorated as a result of the situation.
Ms Edwards said that despite financial recovery in cases like Linda’s, because of the psychological and emotional issues, there were no real ‘winners’ in financial elder abuse, which represent up to a third of all elder abuse cases presenting to Seniors Rights Victoria.
“We were pleased to be able to workshop the potential legal actions in these cases and the supports required by an older person in circumstances such as these to prepare, participate and debrief – after all, they are in dispute with their loved ones and they often feel shame and sadness that the elder abuse has occurred.” Ms Edwards said.
Ms Edwards said the team were happy the workshop met the objectives of speaking at the conference to show how to assess financial elder abuse, how to obtain and present evidence to prove intention, and how to assist an older person to be an effective witness, particularly if they’re experiencing fluctuating health issues.
“We hope all the attendees at the workshop can use this information and approach to create better outcomes for older people experiencing elder abuse,” she said.
The Power Project was launched with an interdisciplinary panel hosted by media celebrity Virginia Trioli which included representatives from the police, family violence services, legal and elder abuse services, sexual assault and advocacy services – all discussing the sexual abuse of older women by their partners, family members and service providers.
With more than 30 years’ experience of working with older people, Opal Institute Director Dr Catherine Barrett said the engaging interdisciplinary panel discussion was the ideal way to launch The Power Project, an innovative national resources to assist service provides and community members to work together to prevent sexual abuse.
Dr Barrett said the first stage of the project includes a website development and poster campaign to raise awareness about the power of listening.
“I’ve heard hundreds of accounts of sexual abuse of older women – and across all these accounts a common theme is the power of listening. Service providers, friends and family who listen can transform the lives of older women,” Dr Barrett said.
She said the aim of the Power Project is to show Australians the power we have to prevent the sexual abuse of older women.
Dr Barrett is calling for organisations, services, associations and individuals to become Power Project Champions.
For more information read The Power Project.