In 2019, WHISE collaborated with a number of stakeholders through the Southern Melbourne PCP Elder Abuse Primary Prevention network to conduct a literature review concerning prevention of elder abuse. In summary, the review called for a framework to prevent violence in all its forms against older people.
The issue of abuse of older Australian’s and specifically women, is of particular concern for WHISE given the number of older women living in our region and the increasing priority placed on this area by State Government, the Federal Government, community and policy makers.
The review concluded that even though there is consistent agreement that elder abuse is a prevalent issue in the community, there is a shortage of evidence and direction on practice to address how to prevent it:
There is a paucity of evidence about the role of primary prevention specifically to address abuse of older members of our community.
Of the interventions described, the EAPN Steering Committee would hold they do not fall within the remit of primary prevention – rather they are secondary and tertiary response strategies.
There are mixed views as to whether elder abuse is best understood as a form of family violence, or as a unique issue in its own right. However, we support the view of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence that it must be considered as family violence.
(Lord, et al., 2019, p. 6)
Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence includes abuse of older people in its definition of family violence saying it “encompasses other forms of violence, such as elder abuse, and violence against parents and siblings” (Neave, et al., 2016, p. 1). It has been estimated that “up to one in 20 older people can experience elder abuse, and for about half of them that abuse might be in the form of financial abuse” (Lord, et al., 2019, p. 59). Therefore, the abuse of older Australians is a prevalent issue.
In Australia, research on elder abuse has been limited to studies looking at particular types of elder abuse (e.g. financial abuse), qualitative studies and those based on administrative data from services who provide support to older people. Such studies are unable to shed light on the proportion of older people aged 65 and over who experience elder abuse or which subtypes are most common. Nor are they able to assess other important issues, such as the extent to which elder abuse is under-reported (Qu, et al., 2021; Joosten, et al., 2017). In response the Attorney-General’s Department commissioned the most extensive empirical examination of elder abuse in Australia to date as part of the National Plan
According to this study (Qu, et al., 2021), the prevalence of elder abuse varies according to the type of abuse, however psychological abuse was the most common subtype abuse reported at 12%. The findings from the study indicates that Australia’s overall elder abuse prevalence rate is 14.8%.
Similarly in past studies it was reported, psychological and financial abuse are the most commonly reported types of abuse. Neglect has been estimated to be as high as 20%. Furthermore, older women have been found to be more likely than men to experience financial elder abuse (Kaspiew, et al., 2016).
While there are few comprehensive Australian data sources that indicate the prevalence of economic abuse of older people there is some evidence that identifies the gendered nature of the issue. In 2010, Monash University analysed public advocate, helpline and public trustee data, and found that women are more likely to experience financial elder abuse than men. It also found that the primary perpetrators were sons, followed by daughters. The finding that women are more likely to experience financial elder abuse than men is consistent with Seniors Rights Victoria helpline data where women make up approximately 72 percent of calls.
(Neave, et al., 2016, p. 99)
Data from the 2012 Personal Safety Survey has shown that .4% of women aged 55 and older have experienced cohabitating partner violence and .2% have experienced sexual assault in the previous 12 months (Kaspiew, et al., 2016). Furthermore, data from the cohorts aged 70 or over in the Longtitudinal Study of Women’s Health has indicated a stable prevalence rate of about 20% across each wave.
When this cohort was surveyed in 2011 (at age 85- 90), the findings suggested that 8% had experienced vulnerability to abuse, with name calling and putdowns being the most common forms. A similar level of prevalence was evident for this cohort in a preceding wave, conducted in 2008 (age 82-87), and slightly lower prevalence levels were found at younger ages (70-81 years). Measures the researchers used to assess neglect indicate a relatively stable prevalence rate of about 20% across waves, from ages 70-75 and 85-90 years.
(Kaspiew, et al., 2016, p. 6)
A 2015 investigation by the Australian Ageing Research Institute on matters reported through the Senior Rights Victoria helpline highlighted the impact of elder abuse on gender and in particular, the role of intersectionality:
The total number of older women reporting abuse was approximately 2.5 times that of older men.
Over half (62 per cent) of older people who reported an abuse matter had some kind of disability, the majority (45 per cent) being physical.
(Joosten, et al., 2015, p. 12)