Did you know that you can prevent elder abuse? Elder abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes in Australia and yet is on the rise as our population ages.
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is: “any act within a relationship of trust that results in harm to an older person”. This can include physical violence, sexual violence, emotional abuse, neglect and financial abuse. The most common type of elder abuse is financial abuse, which occurs when family members or caregivers try to gain control of the older person’s financial resources to use them inappropriately. The most common perpetrator of financial abuse is the adult children of the older person.
Elder Abuse can be evident in many forms, and the circumstances for each example can change depending on the situation. Physical violence is similar to physical assault, and it occurs when someone inflicts physical pain upon the older person. In this case, the victim may show signs of bruises and signs of fear. They may become withdrawn and they may not wish to engage with other people as much as they once did.
Sexual violence includes the act of advancing sexually on an elder without their consent. This can mean inappropriate touching or go as far as rape. As elder people are often physically weaker or may be suffering from cognitive decline, they are more vulnerable to attack. They also may be threatened to silence and will not discuss their situation. Signs of sexual abuse are similar to physical: they may have bruises and may appear withdrawn.
There are other forms of elder abuse, with some elders experiencing neglect and emotional abuse. Emotional abuse may include the abuser emotionally manipulating the elder. In some cases, the abuser may actually physically restrain or isolate the elder, or use threats and humiliation to control the older person. Another part of emotional abuse is neglect. Neglect is when a carer of family member refuses to fulfil their duties of taking care of the elder. This can mean they refuse to bath the elder or properly feed the elder. The abuser may even decide to withhold medication.
All kinds of elder abuse should not be tolerated and must be prevented. The good news is that all of us can help to prevent elder abuse.
How to Prevent Elder Abuse
The first step an abuser will take is to isolate the victim. Isolation makes it difficult for anyone on the outside to see or speak to the victim. It is easier for an abuser to obtain full control over an isolated victim, including obtaining a Power of Attorney so that they have access to the older person’s financial resources.
Signs that an older person might be being financially abused include:
- Family members are suddenly excluded from access to the older person
- A Power of Attorney is used to obtain an ‘early inheritance’
- Unusual transactions in the older person’s bank accounts or credit cards
- Assets being ‘gifted’ to family members
- An older person has suddenly changed his or her will
Signs that an older person is being abused:
- Fear and depression
- Not appearing themselves
- Getting sicker or not always being clean
- The older person is losing weight and always hungry
- The older person is dressing in clothes that you may deem unsuitable for the weather
- Missing items
- They are unable to pay for small things
- Injuries they are unable to explain
- Loss of self confidence and esteem
- Unexplained sexual diseases
- Internal injuries
As an older person may be deemed an easy target due to their weakness or lack of knowledge with technology, elder abuse is more common than you may believe. There are factors that increase the risk of elder abuse, such as dependence, family conflict, a lack of knowledge with legal rights and mental illness. However, elders are still protected in Australian law.
If you suspect an older person is being financially abused, seek help immediately. It is important to act quickly, to further prevent elder abuse and to protect the elder’s assets. Often once assets have been spent or used, they can’t be retrieved, putting the older person at risk of poverty. At Mitchell’s Solicitors, we most commonly represent victims of financial abuse. We provide a free, 10-minute phone consultation. Contact us today!
You can also call the Queensland Government Elder Abuse Prevention Unit Hotline: 1300 651 192