Elder abuse: Shock rise in Australians being exploited, abused by family members

The number of Aussies being abused by family members is soaring in what experts are calling a “silent epidemic”. Here’s what you need to know.

Adella Beaini - Herald Sun - 14 June, 2022

A lawyer has fielded 10 shocking elder abuse cases a week, with advocates calling it Australia’s silent epidemic.

Caxton Legal Centre chief executive, Cybele Koning, has worked with 129 older Australians in three months who experienced abuse, usually at the hands of their own family. She has also assisted hospital staff nationwide in dealing with about 60 people disclosing abuse concerns.

And the number of cases are rising.

“The abuse of older Australians is more prevalent than the general public would think,” Ms Koning said.

“Most people don’t seek help unfortunately and there is still not universal access to assistance services across Australia.”

Elder abuse can take many different forms.
Elder abuse can take many different forms.

At least one in six older Australians have suffered elder abuse, according to the National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, which illustrated the problem was worse than previous estimates.

The $2 million study released in December was commissioned by the Attorney-General’s department to provide the first definitive figures on the pervasiveness of elder abuse.

“With the current population of people aged 65 and over, this equates to over 600,000 people who are experiencing a form of elder abuse,” Jenny Blakey, co-chair of Elder Abuse Action Australia said.

“We know the population of older people will double in the next 25 years, which will double the number experiencing abuse.”

Some of the worst cases Ms Koning said she has dealt with involved the older victim being “denigrated for so long” that they felt “less deserving” of a good life.

“In these situations the older person may well choose to do nothing about the abuse or exploitation and are resigned to just existing day to day,” she said.

“There’s also situations when the grandchildren are denied access to their grandparents. The emotional pain, grief and loss for these grandparents is severe.”

Elder abuse victim Aylin never imagined that the person who was meant to protect her would be the very person who harmed her.

Cybele Koning is the CEO of Caxton Legal Centre.
Cybele Koning is the CEO of Caxton Legal Centre.

The 70-year-old has been subjected to emotional, verbal and financial abuse at the hands of her 40-year-old daughter and live-in carer Angela*. Both women’s names have been changed for legal reasons.

Aylin has endured a living nightmare, her calls and texts monitored, her social contact removed and threats made to her life, which were reported to police.

She is receiving some help from advocacy group Better Place Australia; Aylin wants the abuse to stop, but she also relies on her daughter for her daily care needs.

Dominique Horne, Clinical and Program Lead Elder Services at Better Place Australia said Aylin and similar victims may be reluctant to contact police as they’re “anxious” an intervention may “terminate their relationship”.

Ms Horne believes a lot more needs to be done to address the shocking, and often hidden, abuse.

“At the societal level it is about addressing ageism. At the system level it is about raising the capability of service responders to know how to respond and who to refer to,” she said.

“For families, it is making it easier to find support.

“For older people experiencing abuse, it is providing higher visibility services that come into their homes to safely support, connect and end the abuse.”

June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

HOW TO REPORT ELDER ABUSE

  • If you are aware of or experiencing abuse, call Lifeline‘s Elder Abuse Prevention Unit toll free on 1300 651 192.
  • You can visit Compass, to find services to assist you by state or territory. https://www.compass.info

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