Ageing without fear – elder abuse discussion papers

Elder abuse is defined as any act which causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust, such as a family member or friend. The abuse may be physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual and can include mistreatment and neglect. Elder abuse often occurs within the family or a domestic setting and in 92 per cent of Senior Rights Victoria cases is perpetrated by an adult child against their parent.

One of the key results of the 2016 Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence was the recognition of elder abuse as family violence. Nevertheless, the Royal Commission acknowledged that older people have specific needs within the family violence sector. As the reforms continue to progress within Victoria and nationally, gaps remain on how best to integrate older people into family violence.

In order to build understanding between the two sectors, Seniors Rights Victoria consulted with other family violence service providers to produce a suite of discussion papers on elder abuse as family violence, elder abuse and gender and preventing elder abuse.

The three discussion papers on elder abuse as family violence are:

  • Elder Abuse as Family Violence explains how elder abuse is a form of family violence, and draws attention to its unique causes and characteristics.
  • Elder Abuse, Gender and Sexuality explores the ways gender and sexual identity can affect an individual’s experience of elder abuse, mistreatment and disrespect. It also includes a discussion of the often under-recognised crime of sexual assault of older women.
  • Preventing Elder Abuse describes activities that help prevent elder abuse from occurring, as well as actions that enable people to detect and respond to elder abuse in order to inhibit reoccurrences and prevent long-term harm.

Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey said the social conditions, or drivers that lead to elder abuse include ageism, which is the way people are treated differently as they age.

“When older people are regarded as less valuable, unable to make decisions for themselves, and are a burden on resources it can result in social and cultural norms where elder abuse is tolerated. Gender inequality and the imbalance of power between women and men as a driver to family violence is also an influence, as women still make up more than 75 per cent of all callers to our Helpline,” she said.

“The intersectionality of ageism and gender inequality may make older women at higher risk of abuse.”

Seniors Rights Victoria is the key state-wide service dedicated to stopping elder abuse. It is a program of Council on The Ageing (COTA), supported by the Victorian Government.