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June 18, 2012

Secret Shame as Elders Abused by Loved Ones

Secret shame as elders abused by loved ones
By Amy Remeikis
June 17, 2012

Often those guilty of elder abuse are members of their own family, making disclosure all the more difficult for the victim, writes Amy Remeikis.
It’s Australia’s secret shame, hidden in dark rooms or tucked in the back of an otherwise average family home.
It’s not comfortably spoken about in social situations and rarely covered in the nightly news.
But abuse against the elderly, or elder abuse, is occurring within Queensland families.
Senior social worker at the Caxton Legal Centre, Queensland’s longest running free legal advice service, Vivienne Campion, believes it is one of the nations’ last untouched social issues.
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“If you look at the history of domestic violence, there has been a massive raising of public awareness about it, it is no longer hidden like it once was,” she said.
“I think elder abuse is heading in that direction, but it needs to be constantly highlighted.  As with child abuse, there is a lot of shame around it, a lot of “Is this really happening to our grandparents?” and “Surely families wouldn’t do that” but it’s sad to say, that they do.”
As the coordinator of the centre’s Senior’s Legal and Support Service, Ms Campion and her team of five, made up of social workers and lawyers, are over run with cases of elder abuse in Brisbane and its surrounds.
The service offers both free legal and social assistance as well as helping with counselling and if needed, accommodation.
“We are never not busy,” she said.
In the past year, Ms Campion said the service dealt with 1500 elder abuse cases “and probably the same again in people just wanting advice”.
“I think we are dealing with the tip of the iceberg as most of it goes unreported and there are a lot of reasons for that," she said.
“The older person experiences a great deal of embarrassment, shame and humiliation about what is happening and the reason for that is because almost always, not always, but almost always, a family member, in particular an adult sons or daughters are the ones who are doing it.”
Ms Campion said elder abuse ranges from obvious physical abuse to social, psychological, sexual and financial “experienced by an older person who is in a relationship of trust or dependency with the abuser”.
Financial abuse is the most common, but Ms Campion said it is rarely the only form of abuse.
“It is almost never just a case of financial abuse,” she said.
“To enable the financial abuse to come about, there is almost always another pattern of abuse around it. It could be psychological or social and part of that tends to be isolating the older person from other family members who might work out what is going on, or they think they know what is going on but are prevented getting access to the older person (by the abuser).”
Financial abuse can start off simply. It could be failing to return the change after doing the grocery shopping, or taking the older person’s bank cards and accessing their account for their own use.
However it can progress to where adult children or other people in positions of trust ask their elderly parents or older person to loan them large amounts of money they don’t pay back, or convince them to sell their house and hand over the money in exchange for a granny flat or accommodation in the family home.
“They may tell them they will never have to worry about accommodation again, that they will look after them for the rest of their life and then they [the older person] are evicted,” Ms Campion said.
“We’ve had cases where they have literally been evicted out on the street with some of their pieces around them and nowhere to go.”
Ms Campion and the Caxton Legal Centre’s Senior’s Legal and Support Services, one of five such services across the state, said her team can only act if the elderly person themselves consents.
She said that can be a battle. By the time the service becomes involved, the abuse is either happening or has happened and the damage has been done.
“The harm has been done, the family is probably fractured and the family might never be the same again and the older person is left, not only with the financial loss, but all the grief and loss at a late stage of life with a family that may never be the same again.”
Stopping it however, could be as simple as shining a light on the issue.
“It really works on a coal face level,” she said.
“If the public recognises what is happening, they are much quicker to do something about it and the sooner they do something about it, the sooner it comes to our attention and the more quickly we can act.”
Friday was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and the Newman government announced a new awareness campaign targeting the issue.
Minister for Communities, Tracy Davis, said the Queensland Elder Abuse Helpline responded to almost 1000 reports of elder abuse between April 2011 and March 2012 but echoed Ms Campion’s belief that the true number of victims would be much higher.
Information about where to call or what to do has been sent to more than 5000 organisations across the state and posters highlighting the issue has been sent to GP offices.
“We have launched this campaign to raise awareness among the community of what elder abuse is, how to recognise it and what to do about it,” Ms Davis said.
The LNP has also promised to establish an independent public advocate to “monitor report and educate the community on the issue of elder abuse”.
Taking the concept one step further, award winning Brisbane photographer Gemma-Rose Turnbull recently worked with the Senior’s Legal and Support Service to document the stories of some of their clients, displaying her work at an exhibition designed to highlight the issue.
Ms Campion doesn’t shy away from the heartbreak associated with her work, but she believes the public silence needs to stop.
“Elder abuse is the last untouched area,” she said.
“The only effective ways to really combat it are education and consciousness raising, making the public aware of what is happening.”
If you need help or advice call the Caxton Legal Centre’s Senior’s Legal and Support Service on Tel: 07 3214 6333 or the Queensland Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 651 192.
 

 SOURCE:     SMH.com.au
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Any Charges Reported on this blog are Merely Accusations and the Defendants are Presumed Innocent Unless and Until Proven Guilty.

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