12th Jun 2018
Three key reasons why elder abuse is on the rise
Author: Janelle Ward
Why elder abuse is on the rise

An ageing population, strong house prices and solid superannuation balances are resulting in an escalation in elder abuse, according to key sources, with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day this week seeking to highlight the problem.

While elder abuse is starting to be more widely recognised around the world, it is statistically one of the least investigated types of violence in national surveys, and one of the least addressed in national action plans, according to Senior Rights Victoria (SRV).

The organisation estimates that up to 14 per cent of older Australians may be experiencing abuse and says that last year its helpline received 3300 calls – a 25 per cent increase on the previous year.

While elder abuse can be physical, psychological or financial mistreatment by a trusted person, the majority of cases involve financial abuse.

And it’s the source of abuse that often prevents it being reported, says Curtin University law Professor Eileen Webb.

"Theft, fraud, there's quite a smorgasbord of offences that, if law enforcement wanted to get involved in this, they could use," she said.

"But in most cases, the older person won't want the police to get involved, because … it's your [adult] child – you don't want your child sent to jail."

Dr Webb recommends that families put their arrangements into a legal contract to plan for all possible future contingencies and to protect all parties.

Verbal agreements did not have a strong basis in law, she said, and if something went wrong, it could be an expensive and emotional battle for an older person to get their money back.

"The most common scenario is that the older person sells their home, moves in with the [adult] child, often gives the child some money or makes some contribution towards extensions or a granny flat on that property," she said.

"But they are not on that title, so the adult child can deal with that property as they wish. It's their property – they can sell it, they can mortgage it.

"We’ve seen cases where houses have literally been sold from under the older person."

Community lawyer Fran Ottolini said most of her clients were "capable but vulnerable" victims of financial abuse and reiterated the danger of informal family agreements involving the transfer of assets, such as:

  • the parent selling their house and agreeing to use the money to build a granny flat or for renovations so they can move into their child's home
  • the parent letting a family member stay at their home rent free in exchange for taking care of them
  • the parent giving the child an interest-free loan, agreeing to be a guarantor for their mortgage, or taking out a mortgage on their behalf.

Ms Ottolini said that because of the ad hoc nature of such agreements, it was almost impossible to determine how widespread the problem was.

SRV Manager Jenny Blakey said there was a growing acknowledgement of elder abuse as a form of family violence but that it was still a disconnected issue when it came to financial abuse, which accounted for 75 per cent of their abuse cases.

“Just as respectful relationships within families help prevent family violence, respect for older family members is a primary protection against elder abuse, particularly when it comes to a family’s financial arrangements,” she said.

Ms Blakey said the warning signs of elder abuse might include an older person seeming fearful, anxious or isolated. There may be unexplained financial transactions, and possessions may be disappearing. Changes to a will, property title or other legal documents are also of concern, she said.

“While the mistreatment of an older person may be carried out by one family member, it is often other family members who are best placed to support their parent or grandparent against the abuse, provided they recognise what is happening.”

Older people can reduce the risk of elder abuse by making sure their financial, medical, legal and other affairs are clearly stated and recorded, she said. Older people must also be empowered to recognise the signs of elder abuse and encouraged to state when they are not comfortable with an arrangement.

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) called for a national register to be created in late 2016, and money for the scheme was set aside in this year's Federal Budget.

Have you experienced elder abuse or know someone who has? Is it difficult to know who to report the abuse to?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    12th Jun 2018
    The elder abuse in Australia is very long story the is not Human Rights & is not Rights persons whith Disability also is rude & corrupt Federal system The all Pensioners & the whith disability is safer from the rouge system & rude Governments include all A.P.S.
    12th Jun 2018
    What also needs to be discussed is society in general. Violence on TV, video games promoting violence, stabbings and home invasions reported at least daily and a general confrontational attitude from the younger generation.
    Then add in a legal system which does not want to impose penalties which reflect the crime any more.
    My wife and I often discuss the state of the world and I'm not sure if it is just us getting older or a complete change in people. The latter I suggest.
    Never lose control over your finances. If anyone has doubts then it is time to visit a lawyer to set up a Testamentary Trust to protect oneself.
    How could this generation have turned out so?
    Old Man
    12th Jun 2018
    Words of wisdom MICK. My take on this is the total lack of respect for others that has permeated society. People who are selfish, blame others for their shortcomings and set such a bad example to the younger generation. We raised our children with the values we were given and, fingers crossed, we are not rushing to set up a Testamentary Trust. Our children are conscious of their place in society, they work hard, keep on the right side of the law and do volunteer work. Perhaps you reap what you sow?
    12th Jun 2018
    Ours were raised well and with excellent values. One of the problems we all face is peer groups and a media pushing socially degenerative behaviour and beliefs in rights which do not exist.
    The other is that children make choices when they take on partners and some of those choices are not good. Dad talking about the 'good 'ol days I suspect but many of us live with the pain and see it play out on TV almost every night.
    13th Jun 2018
    Just back from visiting mine - they can't wait for me to come back, same with the grand-kids.

    NONE of mine do drugs, crime or anything but work in trades and management positions and plan for a better future that they will always have underpinned by the efforts of their parents (and grand-parents).

    They learn it from the way they are treated and the way their parents behave in society.

    They don't abuse their elders... never will.
    17th Jun 2018
    Trebor, sometimes it is not the fault of parents or the way they treat their children, sometimes they had perfectly good happy honest upbringing but like Mick says are effected by the way the world is. After all we don't even have honest politicians, we celebrate rich celebrities, and think the only way to have control over our lives is by being rich. And what you see on TV and in the media does brainwash people.
    12th Jun 2018
    Elder abuse is being carried by our own Federal Government as to retirement plans, we have the stupid shorted sighted situation where some self funded retirees have a lower income than a full pension . Some incentive to save and do the right thing.
    12th Jun 2018
    Yep. You are right, Floss. And now Shorten wants to compound the problem by taking franking credits from low-income SFRs while letting pensioners - some who have quite high incomes - retain theirs. Worse, he says even when the SFR has used up half their savings compensating for pension and franking credit losses, and qualifies for a pension, they STILL won't get franking credits - EVER. That's a mighty harsh punishment for saving the government a fortune in pension benefits by going without to save!
    12th Jun 2018
    Yes, Floss, that’s true, the constant demeaning of retirees and pensioners along with more restrictions is definitely elder abuse.
    12th Jun 2018
    Elder abuse is also carried out in retirement villages.
    12th Jun 2018
    Even if any agreements or intentions were agreed in writing and formally noted, it would still be "an expensive and emotional battle for an older person to get their money back". And it would not solve the problem that it is an adult child doing the abusing in the full knowledge that their parent is unlikely to want them prosecuted.

    Financial abuse is one area where external third parties e.g. the banks, are in a good position to identify unusual behaviour (much like physical abuse where doctors are in a good position to notice something is wrong) and this has been brought up a few times in very recent days. Perhaps a system of mandatory reporting needs to be in place where withdrawals over a certain amount are investigated.
    12th Jun 2018
    I agree a mandatory reporting system needs to be in place. Doctors and lawyers should have to report.

    I know of one case where the victim did not report, not wanting their child to face criminal charges, but adjusted her Will to ensure the other children - who spent money renovating her house and caring for their parent after she suffered loss - were treated fairly. The will was overridden in the courts, as the greedy child who committed fraud claimed ''need'' and evidenced the others had more assets (Yes, of course, because they WORKED and SAVED, while Miss Greedy focused on robbing her aging Mum!). Banking privacy laws helped protect the thief!
    12th Jun 2018
    A girlfriend of mine had been putting up with abuse from her son in the form of theft. He comes for a visit, a few days later, she notices something missing, trivial things like a spoon or sprinkler etc. it’s been going on for years.
    She is frail ,afraid and thinks no one will believe her.
    My father in law is 84, lives next door to a single lady who’s son beats her up, disgusting.
    I have also heard other stories.
    A very sad state of affairs.
    12th Jun 2018
    The elder abuse is also in all the Gestapo Human Serices International the criminals in Centrelink & the Legal department the corrupt F.O.I after all the gand of the foreingen department who is responsible for ll the fake International agreements that is also the crime from federal Parliaments & the corrupt ministers P.M. who is life on safer human blood the criminals in the Human Service & centrelink whith the rotten minister Keenan & all Before not see the crime & safer Pensioners whit not any rights to health medication or Australian Government the Governments steeling ours ax money & never offer any help ours family send to the Governments over 1500 emails include the fake Senate not one ever replay The all lie & buly were is the integrity in the political system is Crime & new genocide system against the who work & pay tax were is the money the have to be return
    12th Jun 2018
    marian and you wonder why no one ever replied, try some civil language!!!!!!!!!
    12th Jun 2018
    "...financial abuse, which accounted for 75 per cent of their abuse cases."
    Start with what the Govt can / does do. Liberal Govt destroyed the retirement (financial) planning of 420,000 part-pensioners when they changed the Asset Test rules from Jan 2017 - if they wanted such a drastic change, it should have been grandfathered and only changed over 10 years or so. Disgusting abuse by the Federal Govt, with Centrelink adding to it by chasing pensioners using a defective robo-debt software tool.

    The Govt and Opposition needs to recognise the above abuses, and rip out and replace the entire Age Pension system, by implementing Universal Pension for all with NO tests except Age (65 yrs) and Residency (say 15 yrs), and only then worry about those who did not qualify for any special limited benefits. Also, the Special Pensions of Politicians must be scrapped and they should also get benefits under the SAME RULES as anyone else so that they don't have the temptation of fiddling others pensions without affecting their own.
    Then, all will have incentives to do better than that through savings / woking harder without being penalised.
    Of course, lawyers and vested groups don't like the above clean approach as it removes the incentives to do fraud, fight cases, etc, etc.

    If your MPs are not willing to push for the above reasonable change to Universal Pension, all retirees MUST join in and VOTE OUT your current seat-warmers (by putting them last inn preferences) and vote for any reasonable alternatives. Your opportunity is coming!
    12th Jun 2018
    Dementia can sometimes sneak in unnoticed resulting in fits of rage and a hard to manage elder.

    I had illness and stayed for a little while with one of my aging parents, as I needed someone there all the time, until my condition improved.

    One day I just stood there dumbfounded when some little thing I said set her off. She went into a rage that went on and on. I had to lock myself in a room to shut her up.
    12th Jun 2018
    Not sure that elder abuse has got worse or is it that the reporting of abuse has increased, either way there must be something that can be done, I think it's fair to say that a lot of elder abuse comes from family members, as someone has already commented we seem to be living in a world of entitlement and unfortuanately a lot of this seems to come from family members, we also get many in the younger generation who blame the older generation for all the ills of modern day living and consequently think they are justified in their abuse whatever form it takes, my own personal experience has been positive so I am not saying all of the younger generation blame or have a negative view of us oldies, but the blame game is alive and well.
    Ted Wards
    13th Jun 2018
    Trouble is, its fine for the Government to do more reports on this issue, but thats where it stops. They make it almost impossible for an older vulnerable person to take any action against abuse because they are s fearful of the consequences. There are no protections in place for the person making the report, be it the person themselves or well meaning workers or friends and so on.

    This has been an ongoing issue for decades. The last time something was said was around 2009 or 10 I believe where they set up networking groups who identified ways of reporting what they suspect. We had one case where the officer was told to mind their own business, what happens in families is their business. This was after the client was sent to hospitable after her son's visit.

    There needs to be a complete overhaul in mentality about all types of abuse. Ive tried to report being a victim under different circumstances and was told that no police officer was interested in assisting as its a lot of paper work for little results. Here in identifies the real issue. Whether we like it or not, abuse is an endemic part of our culture that is accepted. Until that changes, you can run all the reports you want, but until the actual infrastructure changes and it becomes safe to report and then be protected after, the abuse will continue.

    it starts from the top, and trickles all the way down. So your son get caught financially abusing a parent, it cant be proved, he walks away Scott free, the vulnerable person is not left unprotected and made even more vulnerable. Well done.
    Ted Wards
    13th Jun 2018
    The government wants to be seen to be interested in doing something but in reality does nothing but produces an expensive report that doesn't actually identity that the government and their outlook on violence is a part of the problem.
    17th Jun 2018
    So they do these expensive studies, find out what we already know, and do what?
    Sometimes it is not just violent abuse, but more subtle. Years ago my mum found out her friend was getting taken to the atm every time the daughter-in-law and grand daughter came to visit(her son had died), she would give them hundreds of dollars. They never ever took her out, did anything for her and kept asking for more and more money. Her estranged daughter was taken off the will but after she died fought for the money, there was no love here, just greed. She did not deserve this treatment at all. They never even attended her funeral.

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