One of the reasons that elder abuse is so under-reported is because elder abuse victims fear a backlash from their family members.
At the National Elder Abuse Conference held in Perth, Acting Assistant Commissioner Lawrence Panaia said that the criminal justice system was not set up to deal with elder abuse and that it is unlikely to prevent it from happening. Of the 400 elder abuse cases reported in Western Australia, almost 70% were perpetrated by family members.
Elder abuse is massively under-reported, with estimates as high as 12500 cases in Western Australia each year. Often prosecutions are dropped due to credibility problems with the elder abuse victims, who may be suffering from dementia or poor health. However, elder abuse victims are also reluctant to report cases of abuse due to shame or fear. Without their family members, even those who are abusive, elderly people may have nowhere else to turn and are vulnerable due to age, poor health and diminished capacity. The conference heard that even elder abuse victims who knew their rights were reluctant to put their families through litigation and were fearful of the costs and stress of a court action. However, cases of elder abuse are serious and legal actions should not be ignored due to fear.
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse takes up many forms, including financial, physical, psychological, sexual and neglect. As stated previously, many victims feel worried to get help as perpetrators are usually family members or people who are close to the victim. However, cases of elder abuse need immediate attention, as it can be quite detrimental to the elder abuse victims involved and their families. How do you know if elder abuse is being perpetrated and what can you do about it?
There are signs displayed when someone is experiencing elder abuse, such as a lack of communication. The victim may be reluctant to discuss their issues or may become suddenly reserved. In most cases, elder abuse victims are fearful and remain quiet in order to protect the abusers, as they are usually close to them. Victims may also seem slightly depressed, and their attitudes may change significantly. They may become sad and withdrawn where they weren’t previously.
Financial abuse includes exploitation and manipulation of an older person, often with reduced cognitive capacity. Financial abuse occurs when someone steals personal items from the victim, uses assets for their own benefit or even making an older person change their will so they receive more finances when the elder passes away. You may notice signs such as the person not being able to spend money on certain things like they would before hand, or refusing to lend you money as they don’t have the funds. Whatever the case, the victim does not tend to follow their usual patterns as they would before the abuse begun.
Psychological abuse can include threats, harassment and isolation. The abuser may hurt the elder’s pets in front of them or threaten to put them in a nursing home if they do not do what they wish. Harassment can include the abuser making advances that are not welcome or even humiliating the elder in front of other people. Isolation includes preventing the victim from seeing people and branches onto the topic of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is the act of manipulating someone to do or say what the abuser wants.
Unfortunately, abuse can become physical and sexual. When someone is old and vulnerable, it makes them an easy target for abusers. Physical abuse can include the act of violence inflicted upon a person. Signs may include bruises, broken bones and a reserved personality. The victim may become fearful of physical contact or may appear reserved and unlike themselves. Some elders may also be victims of sexual assault, in which they experience unwanted sexual advances by the abuser. All forms of elder abuse is unacceptable and help needs to be sought immediately.
Seeking Help on Behalf of Elder Abuse Victims
The first method of seeking help for elder abuse is calling the police. This is reserved for emergency cases and immediate help. However, there are other methods of help. You can begin by contacting an elder abuse helpline on 1300 651 192 in Queensland and 3867 2525 for the rest of Australia. They will provide counselling and discernment on what to do in your scenario. It is also important to seek legal advice, as they will help you with the correct avenues of decision. At Mitchell Solicitors, we are happy to help you in cases of elder abuse, and we wish to provide more publicity into helping victims.
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