Respect Older People: 'Call It Out'

Elder abuse is hard to picture, but it happens every day. What starts out small doesn't always stay that way for long.
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What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is a form of family violence and it is unacceptable.

Elder abuse is any act occurring within a relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which results in harm to an older person. Elder abuse may be physical, sexual, financial, psychological or social, it includes neglect.

This campaign refers to violence and elder abuse that occurs in a family context that is perpetrated by either a relative, friend or known and trusted associate (such as a carer).

Research shows that up to 14 per cent of older people may be experiencing elder abuse. A recent report 'Seven Years of Elder Abuse Data in Victoria' analysing seven years of data collated from Seniors Rights Victoria helpline found the most common types of mistreatment reported are psychological abuse and financial abuse with many callers experiencing more than one type of abuse. A staggering percentage of callers (91%) identified their abuser as a family member, most commonly sons (39%) or daughters (28%).

We estimate older Victorians are experiencing higher rates of abuse than current data captures because it is a phenomenon that is notoriously under-reported.

There are many barriers to disclosing elder abuse. It is not uncommon for older Victorians to feel a sense of shame, concerned that speaking up will cement their status as 'vulnerable'. Another complication is the parent-child dynamic. Perpetrators of elder abuse are frequently the adult children of the victim and this relationship may contribute to the reluctance of older adults to seek help. 

Isolation also plays a role. Victims may rely on the family member who is abusing them to also care for them. For older people with limited social outlets and connections, they may not realise the mistreatment they're facing constitutes abuse.

If you are concerned for your immediate safety or that of someone else, please contact the police in your state or territory or call Triple Zero (000) for emergency services. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing any form of elder abuse, you can discuss these concerns with a trusted family member, GP or physician. For independent advice, contact Seniors Rights Victoria, please call 1300 368 821. More information can be found on the Seniors Rights website
 

Elder abuse and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

The health, safety and wellbeing of older people has been a major focus throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with age and pre-existing health conditions cited as risk factors for transmission. This has given rise to significant media attention; which while factual and well-intended, has amplified the perceived vulnerability of our senior community. 

Calls made to Seniors Rights Victoria throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have seen themes of anxiety, stress and loneliness brought to the fore. Older people who were on track to make significant life changes (moving to a safer home, moving interstate, supporting adult children to move out) may have put these plans on hold during the coronavirus (COVID-19) response and recovery.  

Coronavirus (COVID-19) among other factors has tipped Australia into recession. The economic strain on communities, individuals and families places older Victorians at increased risk of experiencing financial abuse. Respect Victoria is running this campaign to raise awareness of elder abuse, especially financial abuse, to highlight the warning signs of abuse, and to educate the community about where to go to seek support. 

What is ageism?

The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has led to an increase in ageism in the media and the public discourse. Older Australians are being framed as ‘vulnerable,’ and at times, expendable. A staggering number of older Victorians have lost their jobs or become underemployed during the pandemic, and the threat that COVID-19 poses to older people has led to commentary in the media that is discriminatory and removes agency.  

Has an older person in your life ever told you they feel 'invisible'? Chances are they're referring to instances of ageism - experiencing mistreatment, discrimination and or stereotyping because they are older. Ageism is a human rights issue and elder abuse is one of the most serious manifestations of ageism.

The World Health Organisation likens ageism to other dangerous forms of human profiling including racism and sexism - it exists to serves a social and economic purpose: legitimising and sustaining inequalities between groups of people.

Forms of elder abuse

Family violence against older people can take many forms. It is not uncommon for older people to experience multiple forms of elder abuse at one time. Some common forms of elder abuse are listed below:

Financial abuse

  • One of the most common forms of elder abuse reported by older Victorians. Examples may include:
  • Coercing an older person into giving money to a relative
  • Taking money to compensate for looking after an older family member
  • Pressuring an older relative into making financial decisions
  • Forcing an older relative to change their Will.

Emotional (or psychological) abuse

  • Using threats, humiliation or harassment, which may cause distress, feelings of shame, stress or powerlessness. 
  • Emotional abuse is often used alongside other forms of elder abuse.

Neglect

  • Failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical attention or dental care
  • Using medication improperly
  • Keeping older people in a state of poor hygiene.

Physical abuse

  • Hitting
  • Slapping
  • Pushing
  • Using restraints.

Social abuse

  • Restricting access to support networks (family, friends, help services)
  • Discouraging visitors/social outings
  • Opening mail/screening phone calls without permission.

Sexual Abuse

  • Any form of forced or unwanted sexual activity, including taking advantage of a person unable to give consent.

Barriers to reporting

The reasons for not reporting abuse are complicated and may include:

  • fear, including fear of retaliation or family breakdown
  • older people may not recognise that what they are experiencing is elder abuse
  • older people may feel that they are responsible for the behaviour of the perpetrator
  • feelings of guilt and shame
  • belief that aggression and violence is a normal part of family life
  • fear that seeking help will lead to being placed in residential care
  • lack of knowledge about available sources of help.

If you are unsure about asking for help, remember everyone has the right to be safe. No older person should be subjected to any form of abuse, mistreatment or neglect. For a closer look at the warning signs of elder abuse and how to take action, read through these tips.

What to do if you suspect elder abuse is occurring or you are experiencing elder abuse

If you or someone you know is experiencing any form of elder abuse, you can discuss these concerns with a trusted family member, GP or physician. For further information and for independent advice, contact one of the specialist organisations listed below.

Elder abuse response services

Elder abuse response services
  1. Seniors Rights Victoria provides information, support, advice and education to help prevent elder abuse and safeguard the rights, dignity and independence of older people. For more information on Seniors Rights Victoria phone 1300 368 821 or visit the Senior Rights Victoria website.
     
  2. Elder Rights Advocacy provide specialist advice on elder abuse within the context of Australian Government-funded aged care services (residential and home care). For more information on Elder Rights Advocacy phone 1800 700 600 or visit the Older Persons Advocacy Network website.
     
  3. The Victorian Public Advocate is empowered by law to promote and safeguard the rights and interests of people living with a disability. For more phone 1300 309 337 or visit the Office of the Public Advocate website.
     
  4. 1800 Respect is a national hotline operated by trained counselors. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support people impacted by family violence, please call 1800 737 732. More information can be found on the 1800 Respect website.
     
  5. Men’s Referral Service is the peak body for organisations and individuals working with men to end family violence in Victoria and New South Wales. For more information phone 1300 766 491 or visit the No To Violence website.
     
  6. With respect’s role is to both support people in LGBTIQ communities and their families affected by family violence as well as build the capacity of the integrated family services and specialist family violence system. For more information phone 1800 542 847 or visit the w|respect website.

If you are concerned for your immediate safety or that of someone else, please contact the police in your state or territory or call Triple Zero (000) for emergency services.


Suggested social media posts

Social media toolkit

We post ‘call it out’ campaign content to Facebook and Twitter and we encourage you to share our posts. If you’re posting on your own social media accounts, feel free to tag us:

Facebook – @RespectVictoria
Twitter – @Respect__Vic
Instagram – @respectvictoria

To promote the Respect older people: Call It Out campaign, we encourage you to download the Facebook and Twitter cover photos featured below and post to your social media account – feel free to use or take inspiration from the suggested posts below.

Suggested Facebook posts

  • Caring for an elderly family member does not entitle you to take their money. There is no grey area, it’s elder abuse and it’s wrong #ElderAbuse #CallItOut
  • They’re retired. They own their home. They’ve got plenty of super. No amount of self-justification makes elder abuse ok #ElderAbuse #CallItOut
  • Ageing does nothing to diminish your rights. Elder abuse is everybody's business #ElderAbuse #CallItOut
  • Family aren’t entitled to a free pass for poor behaviour. Have the challenging conversation #ElderAbuse #CallItOut

Suggested Tweets

  • Don't let a false sense of entitlement steer your decision making #ElderAbuse #CallItOut
  • I do Mum's groceries, I make her doctor's appointments. I deserve to be compensated. There is no grey area - you know it's wrong #ElderAbuse #CallItOut
  • Things will never change if we ignore elder abuse #CallItOut
  • There is no grey area. Any action that takes away the rights of an older person is a form of elder abuse #CallItOut
  • Everyone in our community has the right to live safely, free from abuse, harm and exploitation #CallItOut
Older woman looking pensive, holding old family photograph of twin daughters
Facebook banner, call it out active bystander campaign image
Older woman looking pensive, holding old family photograph of twin daughters, banner sized for twitter
Twitter banner, call it out active bystander campaign image

Campaign materials

A series of printed materials have been developed to support this campaign and can be downloaded below. To receive printed copies of any the following resources, please email contact@respectvictoria.vic.gov.au 

 


Multicultural resources

A series of translated materials have been developed to support this campaign and can be downloaded below.

Arabic

Download Arabic elder abuse fact sheet and Respect Older People campaign material:
 

Chinese

Download Chinese elder abuse fact sheet and Respect Older People campaign material:

Greek

Download Greek elder abuse fact sheet and Respect Older People campaign material:

Italian

Download Italian elder abuse fact sheet and Respect Older People campaign material:

Vietnamese

Download Vietnamese elder abuse fact sheet and Respect Older People campaign material:


Acknowledgements

Respect Victoria acknowledges the work of the Seniors, Ageing and Carers Branch (Department of Health and Human Services), the Commissioner for Senior Victorians (Mr Gerard Mansour), Seniors Rights Victoria and the Office for Women (Fairer Victoria, Department of Premier and Cabinet).