BY SAMANTHA O'CONNELL
The Victorian Government has relaunched its successful Respect Older People campaign following a surge in elder abuse cases across Australia.
In 2019, one-in-six Victorians viewed the original ‘Call It Out’ television campaign, which featured a woman suffering familial abuse.
The campaign’s renewal intends to highlight the many forms elder abuse can take, including financial, physical, emotional and social.
Registered Nurse Peta Morrison* said her family “disintegrated” after her sister financially and emotionally abused their mother for more than a decade.
“Initially, alarm bells went off when we noticed my mother was spending thousands of dollars paying my sister’s bills and buying her ex-boyfriends’ cars,” she said.
“It’s reached the point where my sister won’t let my mother tell us anything about her situation or contact us at all.
“My sister has brainwashed my mother so badly that we won’t know if she gets sick or dies…we won’t be able to say goodbye to her, or even know if she’s cremated or buried.”
More than 90 per cent of perpetrators of elder abuse in Victoria are related to the victim. While this is most often a child, it can also be a grandchild, sibling or partner.
Ms Morrison said she sought support from organisations but learned “nothing can be done” if the victim is too afraid to ask for help.
“I’ve started getting counselling because I really can’t handle the frustration and confusion of grieving for a mother who is alive, but who I don’t have a relationship with anymore,” Ms Morrison said.
“[My mother] doesn’t listen to music anymore, she doesn’t laugh, she doesn’t tell me jokes…she was angry and morose the last few times we spoke,” she said.
“I pray and hope every Sunday when I call that she will pick up the phone.”
The decision to renew the campaign comes as the COVID-19 pandemic sees isolation, depression and unemployment all increasing - all risk factors in instances of elder abuse.
Aged care consultant Dr Rosalie Hudson said government initiatives are necessary to educate people on the “silent epidemic” of elder abuse.
“The strict rules that have been imposed [for COVID-19] are denying people proper access, and I think that’s unfair if you happen to be a resident in a nursing home,” Dr Hudson said.
“It contributes to a kind of ‘hidden’ elder abuse…like lack of companionship, lack of visitors, or someone missing a meal tray without staff having the interest or time to enquire if you’ve eaten your meal,” she said.
“Many [nursing homes] are understaffed…and many elder abuse complaints go unanswered because management either don’t take it seriously, or lack the skills to know how to respond.”
Older people often do not report abuse due to feelings of guilt, shame and a lack of knowledge about available sources of help.
And while the 2018 Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety focuses on the residential services industry, family origins of elder abuse are also coming to light.
Dr Hudson said the Respect Older People campaign could rectify this issue by encouraging victims and their families to report abuse, despite “fear of the repercussions”.
“When you see evidence, or even suspect evidence of elder abuse, report it,” she said.
“There are sadly many people in residential aged care and in the community who know about elder abuse, but they themselves don’t report it because they fear they are intruding on somebody’s privacy.
“I think that this issue needs to be brought out from under the carpet.”
Reportedly two-thirds of those viewers who saw the original Respect Older People campaign took action as a result.
In a media statement, Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence Gabrielle Williams outlined how the campaign will assist the community in preventing elder abuse.
“The pressures of the pandemic have had significant impacts on older people in Victoria,” Ms Williams said.
“We want to remind all Victorians that identifying and stopping elder abuse is everybody’s business.”
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing elder abuse please call Seniors Rights Victoria on 1300 368 821 or call 000 if they are in immediate danger.
*Name changed to protect privacy