The silent epidemic of elder abuse in our suburbs

Feb 5, 2018 by

Catherine is just one example of the estimated one in six elderly people subjected to abuse at the hands of their children.

Catherine* raised two boys as a single mother and was always proud to be able to say she was best friends with both of her sons.

Now the 68-year-old is grappling with the shame that her own child could rip her off, causing her to lose her retirement savings of more than $80,000.

But Catherine says the emotional pain of the once-close bond with her younger son being torn apart is far worse than having to rebuild her finances at an age when she should be planning a comfortable retirement.

“I always said I was best friends with both my sons,” she said.

“That’s what I believed I had until [last year].

“Over the last few months, the terrible phone calls, the messages I’ve received is not what I’ve ever expected a son of mine to do.”

It’s a shame which is being quietly felt throughout the nation’s suburbs, which experts say are riddled with hidden victims of financial elder abuse at the hands of, predominantly, their own adult children.

But it’s also this shame, as well as a desire to protect their children, which is preventing parents from reporting what can often be criminal behaviour, according to 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.

“The criminal law is only triggered is when it’s a very serious, headline-grabbing level of abuse. For example, if an older person experiences terrible physical abuse or passes away, or it’s extremely large sums of money, and then you might get the law enforcement to act.

“But in most cases the older person won’t want the police to get involved, because again, it’s your child — you don’t want your child sent to jail.”

An unspoken epidemic of abuse

As a result of this reluctance to report, there is little hard data available on the prevalence of elder abuse in Australia.

But the World Health Organisation estimates about one in six people aged older than 60 will be victims each year.

An official definition is also hard to pin down, though experts agree it involves the abuse of an older person — whether physical, psychological, financial or by neglect — by a person they trust.

The majority of cases involve financial abuse or improperly using an older person’s money or assets — for example refusing to repay a loan or forcing them to sign a financial document like a will.

Source: The silent epidemic of elder abuse in our suburbs – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

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