Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Every year on this day, we take the time to build awareness that Elder Abuse is happening, and it is happening now within our community – and it needs to stop.
Elder Abuse can take on many forms and can occur within families and to people from all walks of life.
It is important that as a community we are aware of what Elder Abuse is, what it can look like, and importantly, ensure we know where help can be sought, or ways in which it can be prevented altogether.
What is Elder Abuse?
Many believe that Elder Abuse only means physical abuse of those who are very old.
There are two misconceptions in that belief:
- that abuse is only physical and
- that Elder Abuse only happens to those who society thinks is “old”.
The Australian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse has defined Elder Abuse as “an act occurring within a relationship where there is an implication of trust, which results in harm to an older person”.
At its core, Elder Abuse is the abuse of those who are elderly and vulnerable.
Sadly, the majority of the cases go unreported.
It is often the case that the abuse is perpetrated by those most trusted by the victim – usually close friends and family, or nominated attorneys under an Enduring Power of Attorney. Particularly when the victim is in a vulnerable state, they are unlikely to come forward. That is compounded when they are isolated, and their only friend or family may be the perpetrator of the abuse.
How does it most commonly happen?
Elder Abuse covers all manner of abuse, including financial abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, social abuse, and mental abuse.
There are so many ways in which Elder Abuse may play out.
Some examples are:
- Depriving the victim of essentials to live, including food, clean clothes, suitable accommodation, and medical care.
- Physical abuse of the victim.
- Verbal and mental abuse of the victim, including brainwashing, threats, and degrading behaviour and comments.
- Preventing the victim’s access to other social support, such as family members and friends, because the perpetrator dislikes those family members and views it as “not good for the victim” to be in contact with them.
- Accessing the victim’s bank accounts by way of an enduring power of attorney and using those funds to pay the perpetrator’s personal expenses and to fuel their lifestyle.
- Selling the victim’s property or accessing funds and distributing it to beneficiaries of the victim’s Will.
- Coercing the victim to change their Will in favour of the perpetrator, or against the victim’s consent and knowledge.
It is important to understand that perpetrators may not consider that these abuses are in fact abuses. Some may feel that they are entitled to treat the victim in this manner, or that it is within their power as family or a nominated attorney to do what they are doing.
How can we stop this from happening, or bring to justice to those who are suffering from it?
If you know someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, you should call the Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 651 192 for confidential advice and help. Do not delay.
Some ways that you can personally prevent elder abuse from happening are:
- Intervene and speak up when you suspect elder abuse.
- Keep in touch with the elder people in your life and ensure that they are connected with the people in their community, may it be family, friends or religious communities.
- Keeping elders active by encouraging them to participate in activities as an active member of the community.
- Be very wary of allowing elders to live with someone who is known to be abusive or violent.
- Advocate for support interventions if it is not available, such as at home care, or more suitable living arrangements.
Another avenue for seek assistance is the Public Trustee and Guardian on (02) 6207 9800.
If the perpetrator is a nominated Attorney acting under an Enduring Power of Attorney, particularly in relation to guardianship matters and financial management, a complaint can be lodged with the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal to further investigate the situation. Under their jurisdiction, it is possible that the Attorney’s actions will be considered in the removal of the Attorney if their appointment is deemed inappropriate for the best interests of the victim.
If you need legal advice about someone experiencing Elder Abuse, or need to know what to do if you think Elder Abuse may have occurred or is occurring now, contact our specialised team at Farrar Gesini Dunn on (02) 6181 2050 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today (June 15) is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Let’s work together to put an end to it.