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Our Nation's Older People Are Being Abused. Here's What You Can Do To Stop It

24/11/2016 14:58

There's a minority in this country that is often targeted by criminals simply because of who they are.

They are targeted by scammers who seek to swindle them out of their money. Their human rights, such as respect for their private and family life and home, are breached. Those who are supposed to love and care for them steal from their purses and raid their bank accounts. They are teased and laughed at, or even kicked and punched. Some are sexually assaulted and raped. Alarmingly, their complaints are often not listened to.

There are dozens of news stories about crimes perpetrated against this section of our society every day, yet the issue is rarely spoken about. In fact you could be forgiven for thinking that we are turning a blind eye. Who is this minority?

Older people.

At Action on Elder Abuse we recently conducted an analysis that showed that an estimated 413,500 people aged 65 or over in England and Wales experience some form of abuse each year. That's roughly the same amount of people as the population of Bristol. These older people are subject to a range of crimes, from neglect and fraud to physical and sexual assaults, often because of their perceived frailty and vulnerability.

And unfortunately, the issue simply isn't taken seriously be the judicial system at the moment. Our analysis found that the number of successful criminal convictions in 2015/16 (3,012) represents just 0.7% of the total prevalence of crime against older people.

Understanding the scale of crime against older people is made even worse by poor official statistics. The Home Office and police forces don't break down their statistics in the way they do for hate crimes based on race, sexual orientation, disability or religion. This makes it easier to pretend there's no problem.

So what can we do about this? Our charity is campaigning for a law change. We want elder abuse to be recognised as an aggravated offence, in the same way that hate crimes are now.

This would give older people the same protections as other groups who are singled out for abuse because of their personal characteristics. It would mean the courts could hand out tougher sentences in recognition of the severe impact on the victims. The threat of a longer spell in jail would help to make perpetrators think twice about who they victimise.

But this is a society-wide problem, and we can all play a part in helping to combat it. Unfortunately, like sexual and domestic abuse, elder abuse is something that is all too often happening behind closed doors and done by the very people who are supposed to love and care for our older people. But as with those crimes, there are usually tell-tale signs that something is wrong, and indeed the signs are remarkably similar. An older person being abused, for example, may have frequent bruising or seem withdrawn and reluctant to attend their usual social activities. Another sign to look for is a carer (whether familial or professional) seeming to isolate the older person from their other family and friends.

Financial abuse can be a little easier to spot. Possessions may go missing. Money may disappear, either from the house or bank accounts. Older people may suddenly complain of being short of money, when they ought to have perfectly adequate funds. They may talk about financial schemes they have become involved with, or work that they have commissioned on their house that doesn't seem quite necessary.

Relatives should be vigilant for signs such as this and, with the consent of the older person where appropriate, take steps to protect them. For example, they can advise them to only book work on their home through 'trusted trader' schemes, never let anyone into the house unless they have an appointment, and to keep their valuables out of sight. They can also put a limit on how much can be withdrawn from their bank account at any one time.

And perhaps the greatest thing you can do to protect your older loved ones is talk to them. It is common for older people to not quite realise that yes, they too, are now old. They may feel forty in their heads but the world now sees them differently. And the more unscrupulous - the bullies, the criminals and predators - may see them as targets.

Perhaps in the way that parents up and down the land ensure that a 'stranger danger' talk with their children is a rite of passage, families and friends should be talking to their older ones about dangers they may face and how they can protect themselves. This isn't about being patronising. It's returning the love and protection that they showed you when you were young.

Make them aware, for example, that a bank would never ask them to supply their account details or PIN number over the phone. Listen to their concerns and, if you have suspicions that something may not be quite right, contact the police or your local social services. And if you're at all worried and need support in getting your concerns acted upon, contact Action on Elder Abuse.

Older people are often at an age and stage of life where advocating for themselves is more difficult. That's why we're advocating for them. You can too.

For more information about Action on Elder Abuse, visit: http://elderabuse.org.uk/

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