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Preventing Elder Abuse in the west

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is marked every year on 15 June to raise awareness of the mistreatment of older people brought about by ageism and inequality in our society. This year with the impact of COVID-19, there is increased urgency to bring light to this issue.

While there is much to be learned still about elder abuse, it is estimated that up to 14 per cent of older people could currently experience some form of form of physical, emotional, financial, social or sexual abuse. In recent data from Women’s Health West, statistics show that in the last two years, nearly eight per cent of women seeking family violence assistance were aged 55 years or over.

In many ways, elder abuse presents similarly to broader family violence cases. Most elder abuse occurs within a family, and the majority of people who experience abuse are women. However, there are also some differences we can recognise. Elder abuse is most often perpetrated by an adult child against their parent but can also be committed by trusted people outside of the family. A higher proportion of men also experience elder abuse, comprising of 30 per cent of those affected.

In the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are particularly alert to increased risk factors for elder abuse. Ageism is a key driver of elder abuse and some social narratives on the pandemic risk further stigmatising our older population. Additional risk factors such as social isolation and financial stress (both of those experiencing elder abuse and those committing it) are incredibly heightened through self-isolation measures and economic downturn.

The number of Victorians aged 65 and above is set to triple by 2058. This ageing population, along with the risk factors we are currently seeing, mean that it has never been more important to invest in understanding and preventing this form of family violence.

In response to recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Victorian Government funded the establishment of ten elder abuse prevention networks. Women’s Health West is currently the chair of the West Metropolitan Elder Abuse Prevention Network, and this Network has in turn recently become a partner of our Preventing Violence Together Western region strategy to prevent violence against women. We hope to see the continuation of funding for these vital initiatives.

It is expected that with these closer connections, elder abuse and the wider family violence sector will be better integrated, and Women’s Health West can become further informed about meeting the needs of our diverse older communities.

If you would like to show your support on World Elder Abuse Day, think purple! While COVID-19 restrictions mean we won’t be coming together, you can still dress purple, make purple social media frames or even update a purple Zoom background to help raise awareness. Look out as well for Women’s Health West’s campaign on social media and be sure to share!