Abuse of Older People
What Is Abuse of Older People (Elder Abuse)?
The abuse of older people (or elder abuse) is the act or neglect of an older person that causes harm or distress, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust. It can happen once or repeated times and can have devastating physical, emotional and social consequences for older people, their families and communities. The World Health Organisation estimates prevalence rates of elder abuse in high or middle-income countries to range from 2 to 14 per cent.
There are a range of individuals who abuse older people. Although older Australia’s adult children are the largest groups of people to abuse older people, abusers can also be more distant relatives, spouses and partners, neighbours, friends, workers and informal carers.
How Can This Impact Older LGBTQ+ People?
As an individual gets older, they sometimes can have an increased reliance on family members, carers and support services. This reliance can increase the risk of vulnerability and control. Although the abuse of older people occurs across all communities, there are specific risks associated with older LGBTQ+ people.
Sometimes older people may be subject to control from family members, carers and supports that do not understand or actively discriminate against people of diverse sexualities and genders. These people may be family members who have control of finances or power of attorney, as well as aged care facilities and carers that discriminate against people based on their gender and sexuality.
Examples include family members refusing to support or associate with older people if they are openly of a diverse sexuality or gender, or a carer or facility forcing an older person to “re-enter the closet”.
Due to potential reliance on family and carers, some older people may not be able to disclose the abuse that is occurring out of fear of the consequences. There can also be fears of losing contact with family, or losing support from carers, which can further prevent the disclosure of abuse.
Where Can I Get Support?
You should never have to experience neglect, discrimination or abuse! That includes from family, friends, neighbours and professional carers. If you relate to some of the statements below, you may want to consider getting support.
- They take my money or belongings or pressure me into giving them money or belongings
- They don’t let me make decisions for myself
- They often tell me I am too old, or senile to understand
- They withhold essentials from me, such as food and medications
- They neglect their professional responsibilities like leaving me alone for long periods of time
- They often yell, scream or swear at me or insult me sexuality or affirmed gender
- They physically hurt me
- They touch me sexually without my consent
- They leave me locked inside or physically restrain me
- I am scared of them
Take our quiz here to answer more questions that may help you identify patterns of abuse in your relationship.
If you are in danger, contact 000.
If the situation is non-urgent, the Elder Abuse Helpline is a first port-of-call for support, referral and information. They provide free assistance to anyone in Australia who experiences, witnesses or suspects the abuse of an older person by someone they know and trust. You can call1300 651 192 or 1800 Elder Help (1800 353 374). The Telephone Interpreter Service is available for non-English speaking callers. The helpline operates 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday and voice messages can be left outside these hours.
You should never have to experience abuse or discrimination. However, it can be a difficult process to leave or amend these situations. If you are in a violent or otherwise abusive situation, there are people available to talk to who can offer support. To find the right support visit our service mapping page here.
I Am Concerned That an Older Person I Know Is Experiencing Abuse.
If there is an immediate emergency, please contact 000.
You may have noticed some warning signs that an older person is experiencing abuse.
Signals that an older person is being abused include the following:
- Appearing fearful, anxious, depressed or isolated
- Going back “in the closet” or expressing unusual feelings of shame
- Hesitating to speak openly and/or providing implausible or inconsistent stories
- Physical injuries they do not want to speak about or that are inconsistent with explanations
- Weight loss and absence of personal care or hygiene
- Disappearance of cash or possessions, or a sudden and unusual change to their will or other documentation.
If you suspect an older person is at risk of, or is suffering abuse, you should speak to a professional.
Types of abuse against older LGBTQ+ people?
All forms of abuse can be made more complicated when homophobia, biphobia and/or transphobia are part of the driving factors. We’ve included some examples of common elderly abuse below.
This covers any act that causes physical pain or injury to an older person, including the deliberate inappropriate use of drugs or physical restraint.
Examples of statements that reflect physical violence/abuse:
- Sometimes they throw things at me.
- Although they sometimes push or hit me, they generally are not violent.
- They threaten to withhold my access to hormones and medical treatment.
- I am scared of them when they are angry or intoxicated.
- Although it was an accident, I am still hiding the reason for my bruises.
- They once hit me, and sometimes I am scared they will do it again.
- They pressure me into taking drugs or drinking alcohol.
Sexual abuse is any sexual behaviour conducted without a person’s consent. Sexual abuse of older people is often perpetrated by carers, and older people may be scared to disclose the assault.
Sexual abuse is not always a sexual act. It can also include situations like ridiculing the bodies of older trans people and/or taking photos of their bodies and sharing them without consent.
Examples of statements that reflect sexual violence/abuse:
- They forced me to have sex.
- They ridicule my body (often applies to trans or intersex people).
- There are images or videos of me being shared with people without my consent.
Emotional and Psychological Abuse
This refers to any act that causes emotional pain and injury to older people, such as humiliation, disrespect and controlling behaviours, like confining or isolating a person.
One example particular to this group is forcing an older person into an establishment that will discriminate against them for their sexuality or gender.
Other examples of statements that indicate emotional and psychological abuse:
- They make fun of my gender or sexuality.
- They tell me that I am not a “real” man or woman or that I am not non-binary.
- When we talk about their abusive behaviour, they say that my recollection is wrong and I am “crazy”.
- I feel like I am “walking on eggshells”.
- I can’t be by myself. I have to think, feel and behave in a way they want.
- My self-esteem has gotten worse as a result of being with them.
Financial abuse is the misuse or theft of a person’s money or assets. Older people are particularly vulnerable when family members have enduring power of attorney and could experience something like exclusion from a will or denying a partner’s inheritance.
Other examples of financial abuse:
- I am unable to spend my own money.
- I am not allowed to have my own bank account and/or they have restricted access to my account.
- I’m being put into debt that I cannot afford.
- They are withholding the money I need for food, medications or other necessities.
Neglect is the failure to meet a person’s basic needs, such as food, housing and essential medical care. As older people often rely on other people for assistance, they can be easily subject to neglect.
Examples of statements describing neglect include:
- My family/carer want to punish me for having a diverse gender or sexuality, so they have denied me food and/or medication.
- My finances are being managed by a family member/carer and they have neglected to pay rent/bills.
- They say they won’t wash, touch or dress me (when it is their role to do so).
Pressure and Coercion
Forcing or manipulating a person to make a decision that may negatively impact their life is a type of abuse.
Examples of statements describing pressure and coercion:
- They have used their power of attorney to make changes against my will (e.g., removing my partner from my will or threatening to).
- They won’t provide the care and/or medication I need unless I “go back in the closet” or commit to something against my will.
- They force me to wear clothes that don’t align with my gender.
For all people, younger and older, pets can provide companionship and happiness. For many older people, the companionship with a pet can be one of the most important parts of their day to day life.
Abusers may intentionally harm or threaten to harm animals as a tactic of control and/or emotional and psychological abuse.
The statements below are examples of animal abuse:
- My pet is scared or flees when my family member/carer is near.
- They physically hurt my pet.
- They say they are looking after my pet but when they do my pet seems hungry, thirsty, overheated or cold, dishevelled.
- They won’t let me take my sick/injured pet to the vet.
- They threaten to hurt or kill my pet.
- Pets have mysteriously died when alone with my carer/family member.
Spiritual and cultural abuse is denying someone the right to practice their faith or spirituality. It also applies to using spiritual, religious or cultural beliefs and practices to control and dominate a person.
The statements below are examples of spiritual abuse:
- They tell me I am stupid for my beliefs.
- They tell me I can’t be both LGBTQ+ and keep my beliefs.
- They threaten to tell my spiritual community that I am LGBTQ+.
- They say that I am going to hell or will be punished by my higher power.
- They follow me to my place or practice/worship or won’t leave me alone to practice my spirituality.
- They use my faith as a way of trying to ‘turn me’ or make me feel guilty for my sexuality and/or gender.
Social abuse in relation to the abuse of older people is when an individual is isolated from friends, family and/or other elements of their community.
Examples of statements describing social abuse:
- They try to control who I see and/or do not allow me to see my carer, friends or family.
- They are constantly putting down my friends/people in my network and make it awkward and uncomfortable when I see them.
- They threaten to disclose something about me to my friends, family and/or community that I am not comfortable with them knowing (e.g., disclosing my sexuality or gender history/identity, HIV or STI status).
- They use my social media, pretending to be me.
- They have spread rumours about me and have tried to turn people against me.
- They say my family/friends/carer don’t care about me.