Abuse of older people: crime or family dynamics?


The prevention and control of violence is an important policy goal in Australia. Violence is an undesirable affront when seen as a solution to problems, but a particular affront when committed against vulnerable members of society such as elderly people.

This paper reports research which estimates that about 4.6 per cent of older people are victims of physical, sexual or financial abuse, perpetrated mostly by family members and those who are in a duty of care relationship with the victim. It raises for discussion whether, because of a person’s age, we might be comfortable in redefining criminal acts such as assault, sexual assault and theft as “abuse”. Further, it examines intervention issues in domestic violence and child abuse and points out that an older person in an abusive situation has virtually no choice, as the alternative—moving to an institution—is what they desire least. If we were to go down the child abuse path of mandatory reporting, would this be of benefit to the elderly victim?

The way forward is to collect data to identify the extent of the problem and risk factors to permit better intervention, and debate the desirability of using the full resources of the criminal justice system. The Australian Institute of Criminology will be publishing further reports on crime and older people during 1999—the International Year of Older People (IYOP).