Elder Abuse factsheet

Elder abuse is: “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.” 1

A simpler version is: “Any act within a relationship of trust that harms an older person.” 2

Elder abuse occurs across all cultures and backgrounds and is typically committed by family members or other trusted people such as friends, neighbours or carers. Quiet enjoyment, peace and privacy

Rights of Older People
Older people have the right to:

  • have their individual preferences respected
  • dignity and privacy
  • respectful care received without a sense of obligation
  • human, legal and consumer rights – including freedom of speech
  • live free of exploitation, abuse, discrimination, harassment or neglect 3

Types of Abuse
Elder Abuse can take many different forms, which often overlap. This means that someone experiencing financial abuse may also be subject to emotional or other abuse.

Financial – illegal, improper or unauthorised use of funds or assets, such as theft or fraud Examples may include abuse of a power of attorney, pressure to sign legal documents or sell assets, threats used to obtain cash, cards or PIN numbers (see the separate DCLS Fact Sheet on Financial Abuse).

Physical – causing pain, injury or harm to health Examples may include slapping, pushing, punching, restraining, forcefully grabbing by the arm, or even physically rushing an older person who can’t keep up.

Sexual – non-consensual sexual activity or harassing sexual comments Examples may include being exposed to or forced to watch pornography, being touched inappropriately, talking about sexual behaviours or the person in a sexual way, sexual assault.

Emotional/Psychological – infliction of mental anguish or suffering Examples may include personal put downs like calling someone stupid, ugly or a burden, threats to put someone in a ‘home’ or to deny contact with grandchildren.

Social – preventing a person from having contact with relatives, friends, service providers and other people or restricting the person’s activities Examples may include insulting or threatening friends and/or family thereby increasing isolation, confining a person to their home or room, preventing a person from answering the phone or door, refusing to make transport available or to take a person on family outings, and stalking.

Neglect – can be intentional or unintentional and occurs when an older person is deprived of the basic necessities of life or required health care Examples may include providing inadequate clothing or insufficient food/liquids, abandonment, untreated illnesses, and under or over-medication.

Prevalence and Gender
It is difficult to determine how many older people experience abuse and mistreatment. Like other family related crimes, shame often wrongly attaches to the victim, and there is a reluctance to report.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that the prevalence rate of elder abuse in high- or middle-income countries ranges from 2% to 14%.4 Sample surveys that contact older people in person, estimate between 2.7% and 8.8% of people over 65 years are subject to abuse of some type.5 As a general indication, 70% of older people experiencing abuse are women with 30% being men.

Typically, perpetrators of abuse are adult children (31% sons and 29% daughters) while 10% are other relatives, 9% a spouse/partner, and 21% fall into a combined category of neighbours, friends, workers and informal carers.6

Risk Factors
Risk factors for both perpetrators and older people can include:

  • dementia or disability
  • a history of family violence or sibling conflict
  • dependence on others for transport, company, or care
  • co-dependent living arrangements/relationships
  • geographical and/or social isolation
  • alcohol and/or substance misuse, including prescribed medications
  • mental illness/depression
  • a sense of entitlement about money or resources
  • lack of respect arising from beliefs about older people – ageism and stereotypes

Reluctance to Act
Most commonly, an older person will not take action or report an abuser because they care about their family member and want help for their perceived problem, perhaps drug/alcohol support, housing, employment etc. They may also feel:

  • shame – it’s private, self-blame
  • disbelief – or don’t recognise the situation as abusive
  • hope it will stop – doesn’t happen all the time
  • fear of retribution – including being ‘put in a home’, lack of contact with grandchildren, or being cut off from support services
  • love – don’t want the family member in trouble
  • dependence – who will look after me?
  • lack of knowledge – about where to go, rights and entitlements
  • simply unable to – physically impaired, isolated
  • mistrust – of police, authorities

Key Protective Measures
Staying connected with non-abusive family members, friends, social activities of all sorts, and interest groups.

Plan ahead by considering future care and living arrangements, think about how finances and assets will be managed, make a will, complete an Advance Personal Plan.

Stay safe with important telephone numbers handy, have a safety plan, keep your residence secure, consider a personal alarm, and don’t rely on only one person for care needs.

Keep informed of scams, current affairs and available options.

Maintain health and wellbeing with half an hour of movement a day, regular meals, and regular dental and health checks.

What you can do
Every situation is unique and there is rarely one correct response.

The wishes of the older person must be respected. Listening to the person’s needs and concerns, not judging, and providing information about support services are all helpful responses.

Under the NT mandatory reporting requirements for domestic and family violence you are required to report to NT Police on 131 444 if someone is being physically assaulted by a family member.

Useful contacts

Darwin Community Legal Service
The Elder Abuse Prevention Project provides education, information, advocacy and legal advice

Ph: 08 8982 1111

E: info@dcls.org.au

Elder Abuse Information Line
An advocate will assist with working through options, considering consequences, and referring helpfully

Ph: 1800 037 072

Crime Stoppers NT
Anonymous information can be provided about unsolved or suspected crime on

Ph: 1800 333 000 NT

Police Ph: 131 444


DCLS advocates for the need to:

respect the right of older people to make decisions about their own lives

value older people so that they are recognised as significant community members

protect vulnerable older people through a safeguarding agency that investigates and acts upon suspected abuse

1 World Health Organisation – http://www.who.int/ageing/projects/elder_abuse/en/

2 Culturally Directed Care Solutions – https://cdcs.com.au

3 SA Aged Rights http://www.sa.agedrights.asn.au/files/228_aras_yourlifeyourcareyourrights_2013.pdf?v=564

4 World Health Organization, The Toronto Declaration on the Global Prevention of Elder Abuse (2002)


6 Queensland Elder Abuse Prevention Unit Helpline, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/elder-abuse/3-what-known-aboutprevalence-and-dynamics-elder-abuse

© Darwin Community Legal Service 2018: Non-profit community groups have permission to reproduce parts of this publication as long as the original meaning is retained and proper credit is given to DCLS, as the publisher.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this publication is a guide to the law in the Northern Territory. It is not a substitute for legal advice. You should talk to a lawyer about your particular legal issue. The information contained in this factsheet is current as April 2018

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