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It’s time for a ‘new national conversation’ on elder abuse

The new federal inquiry into elder abuse is a step in the right direction, but the scope of the review is simply too narrow, writes Geoff Rowe.

Picture this.

Geoff Rowe

Geoff Rowe

A trusted financial advisor uses their authorised access to an elderly client’s bank account to sell property, liquidate assets and conduct business on their behalf. Unbeknownst to the client, they then use the profits for personal gain; funding family holidays and home renovations.

Over time, the elderly client’s health deteriorates and they require money for their care, however they find, much to their dismay, that there’s nothing left. Consequently, their quality of life is significantly reduced.

Under Australian law, the financial advisor faces significant penalties, including a lengthy prison sentence. However, if you substitute the financial advisor for a family member acting under an Enduring Power of Attorney, chances are they’ll walk away uncharged, with the issue classified a “family matter.”

The Council of the Ageing (COTA) estimates that as many as 20,000 Australians over 65 are financially or physically abused by a relative or carer – that’s a lot of “family matters” going unprosecuted, and even more unreported.

However, unless you or someone close to you has endured elder abuse, or you work in aged care and have witnessed it; you wouldn’t know. It’s Australia’s silent epidemic, and with the average life expectancy increasing, it’s only getting worse.

This is not the old style ‘panic’ where the elderly were warned to stay off the streets to avoid being mugged or robbed. The threat of elder abuse emerges from much closer to home, from those who care for us as we become unable to fend for ourselves: our family, friends, carers, financial advisors and trusted professionals.

Elder abuse is now where domestic violence was 20 years ago; rarely spoken about or only in hushed voices behind closed doors. We need to bring the response to elder abuse into the 21st century, and give those suffering the rights they’re entitled to as human beings. Currently, the law does not reflect these rights.

The recently announced federal inquiry into elder abuse is a step in the right direction, however the scope of the review is simply too narrow.

More needs to be done to raise awareness in the community about the frequency of abuse, and support programs need to be established to aid victims. Additionally, we need to provide a simple and effective way for victims to retrieve the money and property taken unlawfully from them.

Like most victims of domestic violence, there is a strong sense of shame and embarrassment associated with being abused by a loved one. This is often what deters them from reporting abuse or seeking support.

We need to work together to create a community that does not accept or tolerate the abuse and neglect of our most vulnerable citizens.

Like domestic violence, it’s time we started a national conversation about elder abuse to ensure older people are not marginalised and forgotten in modern society; because at the end of the day, standing up for the rights of our most vulnerable is not just QADA’s business, but everyone’s.

Geoff Rowe is the CEO of the Queensland Aged and Disability Advocacy, a community-based service offering advocacy support to older people and people with a disability.

Want to have your say on this story? Comment below. Send us your news and tip-offs to editorial@australianageingagenda.com.au 

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One Response to It’s time for a ‘new national conversation’ on elder abuse

  1. Peter Leith March 10, 2016 at 4:28 pm #

    Like every other kind of abuse, elder abuse is all about the misuse of power; the powerful exercise it to work their will upon the less powerful or the powerless.
    Apart from criminal elder abuse, physical, sexual or psychological; the most prevalent form of elder-abuse is the form exerted by family members and professional “care-givers” who feel entitled and empowered to “know what is best” for older people….. Often this is well-meaning, always, except where dementia or Alzheimer’s exist. it is presumptuous.

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