A New South Wales parliamentary committee is looking into elder abuse, as lawyers call for tougher penalties for fears the problem will worsen as our population ages.
New laws are required to deal with this hidden crime, which can take different forms, such as emotional, sexual, physical and, most commonly, financial abuse.
Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan believes that elder abuse is a “huge problem” that is only going to get worse.
“Elder abuse is a huge problem in Australia,” she told the ABC’s 7.30. “It affects all kinds of families, it’s not just something that affects poor people or rich people or migrant families, it happens right throughout our community and it’s getting worse.”
Ms Ryan is calling for systemic changes aimed at informing and protecting older people, as well as looking at new ways to encourage victims to come forward.
Over six per cent of older Australians are victims of abuse, with that number being potentially much higher, as many older people are too ashamed or embarrassed to report such instances – especially when the offender is a family member.
The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health has presented a submission to the parliamentary inquiry into elder abuse, saying that a prime target for elder abuse are women who are less educated and have trouble managing their finances.
John Watkins from Alzheimer’s Australia is concerned about the current instances of elder abuse, and fears that, as the population ages, it will become more prevalent – especially for those who live with dementia.
“Abuse of all forms certainly will be a factor that we need to consider in relation to those people and a subset of that group, those people living with dementia 340,000 Australians and within 15 years, half a million,” he said. “My concern is very real for the protection of those people with dementia because they are even more vulnerable.”
One such cause of elder abuse is something called ‘inheritance impatience’ which is, as the name suggests, when families can’t wait to seize control of the assets and incomes of their parents and grandparents.
“We are seeing older people imprisoned in their homes; we are seeing them being robbed of their savings, of their superannuation, of their homes,” said NSW Police Superintendent Rob Critchlow. “We are seeing people commit serious offences, multi hundred thousand dollar frauds, thefts of a large scale … and we often lack the ability to prosecute.”
Currently no laws exist in Australia that require people to report elder abuse to police and, according to John Watkins, the aim of the New South Wales inquiry should be to investigate the need for legal reform as well as create a national awareness campaign to help expose this issue and make it easier for victims to report their circumstances.
Do you know anyone who has been a victim of elder abuse? Have you been in a position where you have had to consider reporting someone for any type of abuse? What do you think of the current laws, or lack thereof, governing elder abuse?