It’s vital we speak up to protect the vulnerable of society

opinion piece by COTA SA Chief Executive, Jane Mussared

Published in The Advertiser, July 26

Thousands of people care for frail older people every day with great honour and respect. They form great partnerships with those they serve, learning about who they are, what they value, their needs and their preferences. They are skilled and conscientious, they believe in what they do and they are aware of the trust that is bestowed upon them in order to support older people to live with dignity and fulfilment.

But, as seen on ABC's 7.30 Report, there are also disturbing examples of elder abuse taking place by the very people who are trusted to provide care. The situation with Mrs Hausler's father is just one of many disturbing examples of elder abuse. And sadly, such abuse is not only isolated to aged care, but can come from a range of people entrusted with their care, be it family members, friends or service providers.

So what can we do to stop this from happening?

While there's unfortunately no quick fix or silver bullet, we need to continue the Minister for the Ageing, Zoe Bettison's determination to raise public awareness about such abuse. It has been a brilliant campaign to date, but this latest case highlights the need for the issue to stay front and centre in order to start seeing positive change.

The community outrage in response to Mrs Hausler's story is absolutely warranted and in many ways, it is heart warming to see that people are disturbed enough to search out ways for it to be prevented in the future. But sadly there are those who are still inclined to disbelieve or deny that there is an issue.

While current estimates suggest that at least 5% of older people are victims of abuse at some stage in their lives, we also know that it is under reported. We've heard all too often of times when there have been suspicions of abuse, but they have not acted on them and regretted it later. We need to continue to remind people of the importance of speaking up, even if it's just a suspicion, to protect vulnerable people.

COTA SA continues to advocate for more work to be done on the prevalence of elder abuse. In order to tackle the issue, we need to know more about what, when and how often elder abuse, in all of its forms, takes place.

We believe that such abuse is more likely in a community that tolerates ageism and undervalues older lives. Just as tackling sexism is an important part of stopping domestic violence, so is reframing and valuing our ageing an important environmental determinant of calling out and putting a stop to elder abuse.

As a community we need to step up and accept that the responsibility for honouring and respecting older citizens rests with all of us. It is all of our business, as managers, visitors, co-workers, families and passers by to look, listen and act - quickly. If we see things that make us uneasy, we need to do something about it. Mrs Hausler has lead the way with her courage and love and we applaud her wholeheartedly for bringing this important issue to light so it can continue to be discussed, and not swept under the carpet.
We also need to develop a framework to tackle elder abuse. In SA, the Closing the Gap report released in 2011 recommended legislative reform to enable a consistent, coordinated response to prevent and respond to the abuse and harm of vulnerable older people in the community.

The Australian Law Reform Commission recently released an Issues Paper about Elder Abuse and is now taking submissions. An overwhelming response to that inquiry will ensure elder abuse gets the attention it deserves and needs to ensure that the human rights of older people are supported.

In the meantime, let's all step up to the plate. The Aged Rights Advocacy Service in SA offers a wonderful service to advise and support people who are suspicious of elder abuse. We need to be honouring those people who care for older people with compassion, pride and skill, and to call out and do something about those who don't.

COTA SA is the peak body representing the rights, needs and interests of older Australians, with 17,000 individual members and 250 organisation members.

Further media information contact:
Amber Fromm - amber@communikate.net.au | 0400 324 220
Bec Tape - rtape@communikate.net.au | 0438 806 983

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