We need to talk about elder abuse

Seniors Rights weaad_logo

Workers from Victorian health, aged care, legal and family violence networks came together at an all-day conference run by Seniors Rights Victoria on 15 June, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, to share expertise, raise awareness and learn more about elder abuse.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day began five years ago in Canada, and is now observed each year across the world. The abuse of older people is an issue of growing concern for our community, as our population ages and the number of people vulnerable to abuse is increasing both in real terms and as a proportion of the whole. In 2006, people aged 65 and over made up just over 13% of the Australian population but by 2051 it is estimated they will account for around 20%.

What do we mean by elder abuse?

It’s when an older person experiences physical or psychological harm, sexual abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation within a relationship of trust—that is, from a family member, partner, friend or carer. The family member is frequently a son or daughter. There is little reliable national data on how prevalent elder abuse is, but research suggests that between 1% and 5% of older people may be experiencing abuse. The problem is very complex, as the older person will often be dependent on the abuser for care, money or housing, and may also be unwilling to act against someone they care about.

What WEAAD presenters had to say

The complexity of elder abuse emerged clearly in the WEAAD morning presentations. Paul Sadler (CEO of Presbyterian Aged Care NSW & ACT) discussed what gives rise to elder abuse, and how we as a community need to work together to respond in a way that not only offers older people protection and acts in their best interests, but also recognises their competence and right to self-determination, and respects their relationships. In a parallel session Jenni Lee, Principal Lawyer at Seniors Rights Victoria, facilitated a discussion and series of presentations about elder abuse as an under-recognised form of family violence.

The afternoon saw a range of presenters from Victoria Legal Aid and Domestic Violence Victoria talking about the difficulties service providers, particularly in legal services, face in responding in an integrated way to the situation of older people because of the lack of suitable accommodation and other support services. The challenges of working with older men experiencing abuse was highlighted in a session presented by Professor Alan Petersen (Monash University) and Maxwell Clarke, a counsellor at South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault. Some WEAAD presentations  will be made available progressively on the SRV website.

How SRV can help

Seniors Rights Victoria is a community legal and advocacy service set up in 2008 specifically to respond to the abuse of older Victorians. Our lawyers and advocates support older people in abusive situations to assert their rights and take back some control over their lives by offering legal remedies and access to support services.

Workers in organisations which provide services to older people are also well placed to support older people who may be at risk of abuse. Seniors Rights Victoria runs community education and professional information sessions which can help older people and service providers to recognise and respond to elder abuse. To book a Community Education session, call Gary Ferguson on (03) 9655 2112 or the SRV Helpline on 1300 368 821; service providers interested in an information session can call Jennifer Lord on (03) 9655 2120.