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Public awareness on elder abuse urgently needed, says seniors group

With elder abuse not well recognised by the public, including police and health professionals, a leading seniors’ rights body has called on government to do more in raising awareness.

A public awareness campaign to raise the profile of elder abuse among families, including educational programs for school children, is one of Seniors Rights Victoria’s recommendations to the Victorian Government in its submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Seniors Rights Victoria said that elder abuse was not well-acknowledged or recognised by the general public or even by older people themselves. It said that older people who came to the service for help rarely identified themselves as a victim of elder abuse or family violence. The need for comprehensive training to ensure that police and health professionals recognised elder abuse was also highlighted.

“Elder abuse is one of the last grand taboos and the fact that society does not openly talk about it is probably the most significant barrier to access to justice and services by older victims,” stated the submission.

Figures from Seniors Rights Victoria’s helpline, which last year received over 1,000 calls regarding elder abuse, showed that over 90 per cent of alleged elder abuse was perpetrated by a relative or the spouse of the older person, and of that, over two-thirds were perpetrated by a son or daughter.

Yesterday, Seniors Rights Victoria manager Jenny Blakey and acting principal lawyer Pam Morton told the commission’s public hearing that financial abuse was the most common form of elder abuse encountered by the service. Financial abuse made up almost 37 per cent of all reported cases and psychological and emotional abuse about 35 per cent.

Financial elder abuse commonly involves the misuse of power of attorney, adult children demanding their inheritance early – what Seniors Rights Victoria terms “early inheritance syndrome” or children exchanging access to care for their parents’ assets. Seniors Rights Victoria noted that risk for financial abuse was heightened when seniors came from non-English speaking backgrounds and were reliant on other family members for the translation of financial documents.

As part of its recommendations to combat financial abuse, Seniors Rights Victoria called on professionals, such as accountants and financial planners, to help senior clients to manage their finances in ways that minimise risk of abuse. It also suggested that the Victorian Government disseminate information on elder abuse to Seniors Card holders and encourage facilitated mediation and family meetings.

“We applaud the Victorian Government for including elder abuse in the commission’s terms of reference,” said Ms Blakely.  “Elder abuse needs to be tackled in a way that accommodates the unique profile of its victims and in partnership with the full range of relevant services – including medical, legal, banking, financial planning, aged care, housing and police.”

Other recommendations to the commission include the need for the greater integration of services and for the expansion of the role of the Office of the Public Advocate to allow for statutorily mandated investigations into situations of concern.

Older Victorians experiencing elder abuse can get help by calling Seniors Rights Victoria on 1300 368 821

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