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Respecting elders is central to ending elder abuse

June 11, 2021

Up to 14 percent of older people are likely to experience elder abuse in Australia and the perpetrators are more likely to be family members, according to OCAV Council member Dominique Horne.

And while the issue is not easy to tackle or understand, respecting and valuing older people is essential to tackling the incidence of elder abuse in society.

A recent addition to the Council, Dominique is a social worker with extensive experience working across a range health and community sectors including disability and aged care. She is currently working with Better Place Australia implementing elder abuse prevention services with The Orange Door.

Better Place Australia has spent the last four years creating better awareness and understanding of elder abuse in Victoria. In 2017, it set up the Respecting Elders services aimed at supporting older people who are experiencing or at risk of elder abuse and to resolve conflict with family or carers. Since then, the organisation has received state funding to provide counselling, financial counselling and mediation services within the Victorian Government’s health department.

“Our aim is to support older people in the community and to share our skills and knowledge with other practitioners, so they’re equipped to respond to elder abuse situations on their own,” Dominique said.

The statistics speak for themselves in terms of the importance of the work of Better Place Australia. A survey by Seniors Rights Victoria revealed that in the seven years leading up to 2020, 72 per cent of women had fallen victim to elder abuse, 28 per cent of men, and the most common group was aged between 80 and 84. Just under 30 per cent of survivors had a cognitive impairment.

Who the perpetrators were is equally revealing: 39 per cent were sons, 28 per cent were daughters and nine per cent was the partner or spouse. The majority were related to the survivors.

“We believe that one reason why elder abuse often goes undetected is because of the subtlety of the action, a reluctance to get the perpetrator into trouble or a heavy reliance on the perpetrator for financial guidance,” Dominique said.

The other factor is that people simply do not know what elder abuse is. According to the World Health Organisation, elder abuse can be defined as a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.

The types of abuse include financial, psychological, emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, social and neglect.

Elder abuse in Victoria is treated as a form of family violence. In the recent Royal Commission into Family Violence, the commissioners identified that family violence experienced by older people is no different to that experienced by younger people.

“We know that the drivers of elder abuse are similar to those of family violence: gender inequity, ageism, and power and control,” Dominique said.

She has been appalled by the rise in numbers and reports of elder abuse in Victoria since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The type of elder abuse has become more violent and it is more complex than ever before. We are seeing an increase in intimate partner violence with the police involved,” Dominique said.

Part of the reason for the hike in numbers, she suspects, could be due to the various lockdowns which have seen many older Victorians experiencing significant social isolation or greater dependence on family members whether by having to move in with them, support them financially or rely on them for food delivery.

“The uncertainty and stress over the past few months have also taken a toll on many households and this increased the older person’s vulnerability to various forms of abuse.
The risk is higher for women and those living with a disability,” Dominique said.

“We need to be more aware especially during this time when it’s harder to check in and monitor the wellbeing of older people in our community.”

Nevertheless, being a family member doesn’t entitle you to take their money whether through coercion or without their knowledge. It doesn’t make it right to keep a vulnerable person shut in one room all day even if it’s for their safety. Any action that takes away the rights of the older person is not acceptable and may constitute elder abuse.

“For me, it is about respecting and valuing the older people in your life. If you value them, you are not going to abuse them,” Dominique said.

And she has advice, too, for older people: “You may be older but that does not mean that you don’t have rights. You have responsibilities to make sure you are not taking advantage, believe in yourself.”


World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is on 15 June.

Sanctuary is how artist Gillian Coates describes her home at Currie Park, OCAV’s village in Euroa. “When I go to Melbourne and I am heading back to Euroa, I can’t wait to get home to the peacefulness of this place. It is like a sanctuary for me."

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