Lawyers push for elder abuse to be a crime

15 June 2020
Leading law firm Maurice Blackburn says new laws are needed to tackle elder abuse, as too many perpetrators face no consequences for their actions.

Principal lawyer Andrew Simpson says while the victims of elder abuse are among the most vulnerable in our community, there are few penalties or deterrents for perpetrators.

“If you steal money from a stranger, it’s considered theft, but if you pressure your elderly mum into signing her life savings over to you, our criminal laws are silent,” Mr Simpson said.

“Once the money is gone, unless there is an asset that can be challenged through a civil legal claim, there may be nothing left to recover.”

The ACT Government has taken a critical first step, recently introducing a law criminalising elder abuse, with the prospect of up to three years’ imprisonment for financial elder abuse.

“We welcome the ACT’s initiative on elder abuse – the threat of time behind bars will provide an important deterrent to potential perpetrators,” Mr Simpson said.

“That’s why on this World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, we are asking all states and territories to follow the ACT’s lead and look at making elder abuse a crime.”

It is estimated between 2% and 14% of older Australians experience elder abuse each year, and these figures are expected to grow with the ageing population.

Mr Simpson said the most common types of elder abuse are financial and psychological abuse, and it is most often perpetrated by adult sons against their elderly mums.

“Because elder abuse often happens within families, it is hard to detect, and tends to be viewed as something to be sorted out privately,” he said.

“Often, the victim doesn’t report the abuse because they don’t have the capacity to, they’re embarrassed, or they’re scared of the consequences.

“In my work, I’ve unfortunately seen many cases where the perpetrator will threaten to put the older person in a home to keep them quiet about the abuse.

“A specific crime of elder abuse will give victims and anyone with concerns about possible abuse the confidence to report it to police for investigation.”

The United Nations has designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

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