'Threat to kill much-loved cat forces grandmother to hand over pension money to her grandson'
'Elderly Greek man facing financial ruin after unknowingly signing over his house to his son'
'85 year old mother isolated and hit by her mentally ill adult daughter'
These are not the newspaper headlines we tend to see. Yet they are real stories of a kind that my organisation, Seniors Rights Victoria, encounters every day - stories of abuse, usually hidden, committed within families against our community’s older members.
People don’t tend to think of elder abuse as a form of family violence, but it is - something that the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, and now the Victorian Government, have very importantly recognised. The National Ageing Research Institute’s analysis of Seniors Rights Victoria’s data shows, for example, that 92.3% of elder abuse is perpetrated by someone related to the older person (including through marriage or de facto relationships) and 66.8% is perpetrated by their adult child.
“You don’t think your kids will do the wrong thing by you, my son is well-spoken and well-educated, he dresses well and if you spoke to him you wouldn’t suspect” – Older woman
Elder abuse may be defined as any act which causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone he or she knows and trusts. The abuse may be physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual and can include mistreatment and neglect. Like other forms of family violence, elder abuse is about one person abusing their power and control over another. It reflects the gender inequality but especially the ageism that is still rife in our society today.
While it is vastly under-reported, the World Health Organisation estimates up to 10 per cent of older people worldwide experience elder abuse. Seniors Rights Victoria’s data shows that financial abuse and psychological/emotional abuse together are the most common forms of abuse reported by older Victorians (81.82%). Victims are most likely to be female (72.5%) and the perpetrators are 60% male and 40% female.
'I was virtually a prisoner...I had no money...they took control over my money...I could take no one to the house' – older man
'He was telling me it was all my fault' – older woman
I have been the Manager of Seniors Rights Victoria for six years, after a background in other social change organisations, and was motivated to join the organisation by the opportunity to improve the rights of older people. In the last year it has been very exciting to see the issue of elder abuse gain traction, with major inquiries at both state and federal levels, a $15 million election commitment by the Coalition government to a National Elder Abuse Plan, and increased efforts by the elder abuse sector to work nationally. I was thrilled to be invited to sit on the Victorian Government’s Family Violence Steering Committee – and its Prevention and Diverse Communities and Intersectionality working groups – so I could bring the experiences of older people to the table. Helping produce the Victorian Government’s 10 year Family Violence Plan has been a complex but positive and collaborative process. The Plan is the foundation to help bring about great change.
Seniors Rights Victoria’s positions on a range of issues to do with older people and elder abuse may be found in our submissions to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence and the recent Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry into elder abuse. For example, we are strongly in favour of ‘respectful relationships’ education in schools being extended to include older people - as ageism leads to abuse. Public wareness campaigns are also vital, as is addressing the multiple problems with our justice system. Change, however, starts with us as individuals too – we all need to challenge the attitudes and inequities that lead to abuse, in all its forms. In past decades, we as a society have come to abhor sexism, racism and the abuse of women and children – standing against the abuse of older people is the next frontier.
'Being able to talk to someone gave me the power to make decisions' – older woman
'I am so grateful that I finally sought help, and got it' – older man
Older Victorians experiencing elder abuse can get help by calling Seniors Rights Victoria on 1300 368 821 Monday to Friday, from 10am to 5pm. Services include a Helpline, specialist legal services, short-term support and advocacy for individuals and community and professional education. Seniors Rights Victoria is supported by the Victorian Government: www.seniorsrights.org.au.