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Research Report: The legal needs of older people
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The legal needs of older people  ( 2004 )  Cite this report



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Chapter 8. Elder abuse


Introduction


Internationally, policy makers and researchers do not have a common definition for elder abuse. This creates problems in the fields of research and policymaking, as research results are not readily open to comparison.1 Lack of a consistent definition also leads to difficulties in assessing the prevalence of elder abuse and the adequacy of the law in addressing elder abuse. Nevertheless, elder abuse in Australia has been appreciated as a serious social problem warranting attention since the early 1990s.2

The term ‘elder abuse’ has been used to describe a range of abuses that include: “physical abuse, psychological abuse, medical abuse, economic abuse, violation of rights, sexual abuse, neglect and self-neglect”,3 or a combination of these. The abuse can be intentional or unintentional, and can be the result of acts or omissions. Broad-brush definitions are fleshed out with varying inclusions and exclusions of the above-mentioned forms of abuse. One of the simplest definitions is: “the wilful or unintentional harm caused to an older person by someone with whom they have a relationship of trust”,4 Other definitions focus more on the harm sustained than the relationship with the abuser.5

Australian definitions commonly exclude self-neglect and crimes committed by strangers.6 Australian research and practice also tends to separate elder abuse in institutional settings from that experienced in private homes, as the issues in relation to prevention, detection, intervention and remedies are quite different from those of older people in community care. One reason for this distinction is that aged people in nursing homes, retirement villages and hostels are open to greater scrutiny by government, workers, family and friends.7

From a worker’s perspective, the operation of varying definitions means that no single definition can be employed for the purposes of detection and intervention. However, it has been noted that a single definition may also cause problems.

    Armed with an encompassing definition there is the danger that professionals will see what they expect to see when confronted with a possible abuse situation.8

Thus, instances of abuse that do not match the textbook definition may be overlooked.

The Victorian Office of the Public Advocate reported in 1990 that one of the factors preventing people from reporting elder abuse was the absence of a clear and commonly accepted definition.9



Biviano, N., Abuse of the non-institutionalised aged: dilemmas of policy and practice, Australian Social Work, vol. 49, n.4, 1996, pp. 4146.
For example, the NSW Advisory Committee on Abuse of Older People in their Homes was formed in 1993 after a series of reports examining the issue.
Kinnear, P. and Graycar, A., Abuse of Older People: Crime or Family Dynamics? Trends and issues in crime and criminal justice, i.112, May 1999, p. 2.
Consultation with Robyn Sedger, Aged Abuse Monitoring Project, Western Sydney, 5 November 2002.
NSW Advisory Committee on Abuse of Older People in their Homes, Abuse of Older People: The Way Forward: final report of the NSW Advisory Committee on the Abuse of Older People in their Homes, Ageing and Disability Department, Sydney, 1997, p. 10.
See for example, NSW Advisory Committee on Abuse of Older People in their Homes, Abuse of Older People: The Way Forward, p. 10, Kinnear and Graycar, Abuse of Older People: Crime or Family Dynamics? Trends and issues in crime and criminal justice, i.112, 1999, p. 2.
Consultation with Wendy Fisher and John Newton, The Aged Care Rights Service, 8 April 2003.
Biviano, Abuse of the non-institutionalised aged, Australian Social Work, vol. 49, n.4, 1996, p. 42.
Barron, B., Cran, A., Flitcroft, J. et al., No Innocent Bystanders: A Study of Abuse of Older People in Our Community, Office of the Public Advocate, Melbourne, 1990.

 Biviano, N., Abuse of the non-institutionalised aged: dilemmas of policy and practice, Australian Social Work, vol. 49, n.4, 1996, pp. 4146.
 For example, the NSW Advisory Committee on Abuse of Older People in their Homes was formed in 1993 after a series of reports examining the issue.
 Kinnear, P. and Graycar, A., Abuse of Older People: Crime or Family Dynamics? Trends and issues in crime and criminal justice, i.112, May 1999, p. 2.
 Consultation with Robyn Sedger, Aged Abuse Monitoring Project, Western Sydney, 5 November 2002.
 NSW Advisory Committee on Abuse of Older People in their Homes, Abuse of Older People: The Way Forward: final report of the NSW Advisory Committee on the Abuse of Older People in their Homes, Ageing and Disability Department, Sydney, 1997, p. 10.
 See for example, NSW Advisory Committee on Abuse of Older People in their Homes, Abuse of Older People: The Way Forward, p. 10, Kinnear and Graycar, Abuse of Older People: Crime or Family Dynamics? Trends and issues in crime and criminal justice, i.112, 1999, p. 2.
 Consultation with Wendy Fisher and John Newton, The Aged Care Rights Service, 8 April 2003.
 Biviano, Abuse of the non-institutionalised aged, Australian Social Work, vol. 49, n.4, 1996, p. 42.
 Barron, B., Cran, A., Flitcroft, J. et al., No Innocent Bystanders: A Study of Abuse of Older People in Our Community, Office of the Public Advocate, Melbourne, 1990.


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Ellison, S, Schetzer, L, Mullins, Perry, J & Wong, K 2004, The legal needs of older people in NSW, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney