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Elder Abuse - What Have We Learned?

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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was promoted in Australia and around the world last month.

elder abuse


The United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 66/127, designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). It is the main day in the year when the world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted on older people.


The purpose is to raise awareness of elder abuse, and highlight ways to challenge such abuse and to provide information about the support and services available.

Why Was this Day Created?

The elderly are one of our most vulnerable groups in society, and many of them are dealing with fear, shame and helplessness. Victims of elder abuse are typically reluctant to report their perpetrators and, because of this, it is difficult to determine how prevalent it is. According to World Health Organisation statistics, about 3 per cent of people over 65 experience some kind of elder abuse but Australian research suggests the figure could be as high as 10 per cent. World Elder Abuse Awareness helps raise awareness of elder abuse to help prevent further harm.

What is Experienced in Australia?

Elder abuse is defined as any act that causes harm to an older person. It is usually carried out by someone the elderly know, and may be physical, social, financial or psychological.

Elder abuse is a recognised form of domestic violence. The Queensland Law Society spearheaded a campaign, along with the Australian Medical Association Queensland, via GP surgeries to raise awareness and collect more data on elder abuse. Christine Smyth, Queensland Law Society president, describes elder abuse as the misuse of power and control. The campaign was launched in recognition that the GP clinic might be one of the few safe places where potential subjects of abuse might be alone and able to discuss the difficulties they are experiencing with a trusted advisor

In Western Australia, Advocare claim that 1 in 20 older people will experience some form of abuse. Elder abuse can be silent and unseen. It often goes unrecognised and unreported.

Seniors Rights Service in New South Wales. They define elder abuse as including financial, psychological, physical, verbal or sexual abuse and neglect of an older person by someone they trust. An interview on SBS radio provides more information on how they have helped seniors assert their rights.

According to Seniors Rights Victoria, Elder abuse is any act which causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust. The abuser may be a:

  • son or daughter
  • grandchild
  • partner
  • other family member
  • friend
  • neighbour

Abuse can be unintentional or deliberate. The harm caused to an older person may range from the unintended effects of poor care through to serious physical injury inflicted deliberately. Harm can also include emotional harm and financial loss including the loss of a home and belongings.The older person may be dependent on the abuser, for example if they rely on the abuser for care. It is also common for the abuser to depend on the support of the older person, for example for accommodation. Sometimes, there may be a co-dependent relationship where both the older person and the abuser depend on each other.

What are the Types of Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse can take many forms. Often more than one type of abuse can be used.

Emotional (or psychological) abuse: Using threats, humiliation or harassment causing distress and feelings of shame, stress or powerlessness. It often occurs in combination with other forms of abuse.

Neglect: Failing to provide the basic necessities of life, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Financial abuse: Using someone's money, property or other assets illegally or improperly or forcing someone to change their will or sign documents. This is the most common form of abuse seen at Seniors Rights Victoria.

Physical abuse: Inflicting pain or injury by hitting, slapping, pushing or using restraints.

Social abuse: Forcing someone to become isolated by restricting their access to others including family, friends or services. This can be used to prevent others from finding out about the abuse.

Sexual Abuse: Any sexual activity for which the person has not consented.Some forms of abuse are criminal acts, for example physical and sexual abuse. Alleged criminal activity should at all times be reported to the police.

Monash University statistics showed adult children were the greatest perpetrators of elder abuse and the main offenders were males against their mothers.

How Can Victims Get Help?

There are a number of state based support services in Australia.


Seniors Rights Victoria provides information, support, advice and education to help prevent elder abuse and safeguard the rights, dignity and independence of older people. www.seniorsrights.org.au or contact their free, confidential, Helpline: 1300 368 821.


UnitingCare Queensland runs the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit, which is funded by the Queensland Government, to provide support services for people who experience, witness or suspect abuse.The unit operates a number of programs for older people who may be at risk, including a dedicated Elder Abuse Helpline, which offers information, support and referral services. Anyone experiencing elder abuse can call the hotline, 1300 651 192 or visit www.eapu.com.au

Western Australia: Advocare Incorporated (Advocare) is an independent, community based, not for profit organisation that supports and protects the rights of older people and people with disabilities. They provide advocacy, information and education to:

  • People who receive aged care services and have a concern about the quality of service
  • People who receive aged care services but are finding it difficult to remain independently at home and would like information on what other services may be available them
  • Older people (50 years+ for Aboriginal and 60 years+ for non-Aboriginal) who are victims or potential victims of abuse from family or friendsAdvocare's telephone number is (08) 9479 7566


Advocacy Tasmania is a community organisation that provides free and independent advocacy services across Tasmania. Tasmanian Elder Abuse Helpline is available between 9 AM and 4 PM on weekdays.1800 441 169 | Free Call(03) 6237 0047 | Mobile and Interstate Callseahelpline@advocacytasmania.org.au

South Australia:

ARAS: Aged Rights Advocacy Service (South Australia) (ARAS) is a not-for-profit community based, independent, rights based organisation that aims to promote and protect the rights and wellbeing of older people, through the provision of information, education, support and representation. ARAS offers a free, statewide and confidential advocacy service. They host an Elder Abuse Prevention Phone Line which provides information about elder abuse, advice about resources and referral to support services. The Elder Abuse phone line is accessed on 1800 372 310. The Phone Line is funded by Office for the Ageing, SA Health. Visit www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/stopelderabuse for more information.

Australian Capital Territory:

The A.C.T. Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service (ADACAS), is an independent, not-for-profit, advocacy organisation helping people with disabilities, older people and their carers. ADACAS provides free independent advocacy in the ACT. Their contact details are: Ph: (02) 6242 5060Email: adacas@adacas.org.au

New South Wales:

Seniors Rights Service provides free, confidential advocacy, advice, education and legal services to older people and hosts a free, confidential Elder Abuse Helpline which provides information, advice and referral for people who experience, witness or suspect the abuse of older people in their homes in NSW. Elder Abuse Helpline is accessed on 1800 628 221.

Northern Territory:

Darwin Community Legal Service on 1800 037 072.


My Aged Care - Elder abuse concerns

Queensland Government - Elder abuse

Queensland Government, Department of Communities - There's no excuse for elder abuse

Community Legal Centres Queensland - Seniors Legal Advice and Support Service

Seniors Rights Victoria- World elder Abuse Awareness day

Prevalence of Financial Elder Abuse in Victoria - A study by Monash University May 2010

Seniors Rights Service NSW

Advocacy Tasmania

Advocare Western Australia

Aged and Carer Advocacy Service (ACT)

Aged Rights Advocacy Service

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