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Ending elder abuse – it starts with respect

A woman sadly holds a photo of her children, the text reads Elder abuse. Hard to picture.

People of all ages deserve to be safe, valued and respected. As we mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15 June, it’s an important time to raise awareness and take action on elder abuse.

One of the great privileges of my role as Commissioner for Senior Victorians is being someone older people can turn to when raising concerns about their own wellbeing. Unfortunately, one of the very common issues older people raise with me is their experience of elder abuse and feeling as though their rights are not respected in the same way as they age.

Elder abuse is a form of family violence perpetrated against older people. Elder abuse can be financial, psychological, social, sexual or physical abuse and neglect. A 2020 survey of 7,000 Australians over 65 found one in six reported experiencing elder abuse in the previous year, however only one in three reached out for support. There are concerns about the increase of elder abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic too.

I have found it particularly worrying that many older people are unaware of what elder abuse is, and even sometimes that they are being abused themselves. Many people also don’t know where to go for help.

So what drives elder abuse, and what can we do about it?

It starts with respect

A recent report by the Australian Human Rights CommissionExternal Link found while 83% of survey respondents believe ageism is a problem, over half agree that making jokes about age is more socially acceptable than making jokes about things like race or gender.

Ageism is no joke – it has a huge impact on the lives of older people. Ageist attitudes and beliefs – held by others or those we unknowingly hold ourselves – can affect the confidence, self-worth and independence of older people in all aspects of their life, from employment and health, through to important life and financial decisions.

A campaign by Respect Victoria – Respect older people: Call it outExternal Link – and the release of Helen and Oliver’s authentic story, draws attention to the connection between ageism and elder abuse.

“One of the simplest ways to prevent elder abuse, is to lead with respect and foster positive attitudes towards ageing in your community, family, and workplace.”

Take action

Looking for signs of elder abuse, and safely calling it out when we see it, is everyone’s responsibility. There is a lot we can do – individually and collectively – to address ageism and prevent and respond to elder abuse:

  • Learn about ageism and challenge any bias you hold about ageing. There’s a great ‘Am I ageist?’ quiz developed by the Every Age Counts campaignExternal Link .
  • If you see or hear ageism, safely call it out. Start a conversation about why it’s not OK to make assumptions or jokes based on a person’s age.
  • Talk about ageism and elder abuse with your friends and family. The more we know about these issues, the better placed we all are to identify and respond together.
  • Social isolation is a risk factor for elder abuse. Keep in contact with your family and friends. Reach out to older people in your life including neighbours and acquaintances.
  • Familiarise yourself with the support available and share information about these support services with your friends, family and community.

Listen to my conversation with Emily Maguire, CEO of Respect VictoriaExternal Link .

Support is available

If you are concerned about your immediate safety or someone you know is in an unsafe or life threatening situation, please call Victoria Police on triple zero (000). For information, support and advice about elder abuse:

  • Seniors Rights Victoria provides information, support, advice and education for older people and their concerned family members or friends. Please note, there is a preference to speak directly with the older person if providing more than general advice. Phone 1300 368 821 or visit the Seniors Rights Victoria websiteExternal Link .
  • Elder Rights Advocacy provides specialist advice on elder abuse within Australian Government-funded aged care services (residential and home care). Phone 1800 700 600 or visit the Older Persons Advocacy Network websiteExternal Link .
  • Safe Steps supports people in Victoria who are experiencing or at risk of any form of family violence. The service is available 24 hours per day, seven days a week. Phone 1800 015 188 or visit the Safe Steps websiteExternal Link to use the webchat service.
  • Rainbow Door is a specialist helpline for LGBTIQA+ people and their families. They support people of all ages and can refer older people and their families to inclusive services. Phone 1800 729 367 from 10am-5pm seven days a week, or visit the Rainbow Door websiteExternal Link .
  • The Victorian Public Advocate is empowered by law to promote and safeguard the rights and interests of people living with a disability. Phone 1300 309 337 or visit the Office of the Public Advocate websiteExternal Link .

Reviewed 31 January 2024