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15 June 2007

Enough is enough

Elder abuse remains a taboo subject but older people must not be denied justice

By Paul Cann

Awareness of elder abuse today stands where domestic violence and child abuse did 20 years ago. They were taboo subjects, misunderstood, underestimated and low on our radar, let alone our conscience. These latest figures from Comic Relief show that elder abuse is real and happening at home, perpetrated by people in a position of trust.

Recent research by Help the Aged as part of our ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign, found that six per cent of people had heard of Margaret Panting, compared with 37 per cent who recognised the name of Victoria Climbie. Both were abused by people supposed to be caring for them and suffered horrific deaths – yet public awareness differs starkly. The main difference between the two was that Mrs. Panting was 70 years older than Victoria Climbie.

Many people have a mistaken belief that most abuse is carried out in care homes by professional staff, but as this new research shows, we must look closer to home. Without awareness and understanding of the issue, older people will continue to be at great risk from the people they trust most.

Combating elder abuse starts with taking it seriously and recognising that some elder abuse is a crime and needs to be responded to accordingly and not dismissed as poor or insensitive behaviour. This necessitates proactive reporting, responsive policing and victim support.

At the other end of the spectrum of abuse is neglect, experienced particularly by women over 85 which can have equally devastating results, stripping away dignity and often having a severe effect on health and mental well-being. Improving support for carers, early identification of deteriorating situations and preventative service provision could avoid abusive or neglectful practice developing.

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We welcome the Government’s commitment to review the current guidance and consider the need for legislation. We think it is vital to place statutory duties on health, housing and police, as well as on social services, in order to defeat elder abuse. It is a complex jigsaw, but what is clear is that older people must not be denied justice.

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