It is considered a fundamental right for every man, woman and child to feel safe, secureand cared for in their own home. But sadly, the evidence suggests that for many vulnerable Australians – particularly those aged over 65 or who are living with disability – this experience is far from their reality.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) says that while evidence about the prevalence of neglect and abuse in Australia is lacking, if international indications provide any guidance, it is likely that between two per cent and 14 per cent of older Australians experience elder abuse in any given year, with the prevalence of neglect possibly higher.
The statistics are no less confronting in the disability sector where AHRC says one in four people who report sexual assault are people living with disabilities and nine in ten women with intellectual disabilities have been sexually abused. It has been estimated that as many as two-thirds of those harming a vulnerable adult are family members, most often the victim’s adult child or spouse – a fact borne out in a special report given to the NSW State Government by the State Ombudsman.
The report, Abuse and Neglect of Vulnerable Adults in NSW, found the majority of the subjects of allegation had a close and personal relationship with the vulnerable adult – with most of the alleged abuse and neglect committed by their family members, or their partner or spouse.
But abuse can take many forms – physical, financial, sexual, emotional or psychological – and organisations such as the Ageing Disability Commission and the Ombudsman’s office are united in their belief that being aware of common indicators may help improve the ability to recognise them and respond appropriately.
While no single behaviour is an absolute indicator of mistreatment, social and geographical isolation, confusion regarding property, belongings or surroundings and carer stress are known indicators. In 2016, a guidebook was published advising those in the professional care service industry on how to prevent and respond to abuse and neglect of those in their care.
The report signalled that for each different type of abuse there were typically many accompanying behavioural indicators to help identify possible cases where a person was at risk of being abused, neglected or exploited.
“Keep checking on them where possible [and] if they are unwilling to get help, provide them with emotional support and offer contact details of support services should they want them later.”
These included where possible victims may:
- Have injuries that don't match the explanation given
- Appear withdrawn or sullen
- Present as “difficult” and not wish to answer questions
- Be unsure or worried about their money or suddenly unable to purchase food or other items; or
- Frequent missed appointments with professionals
The report also noted the presence of one or more indicators of abuse did not necessarily mean abuse had occurred, as indicators of abuse could vary from person to person. However, in cases where abuse or neglect is suspected, there are a host of resources available advising friends or family members the steps to take in the event they suspect someone is being abused.
Relationships Australia says as well as being illegal, any type of abuse is distressing. For this reason, finding someone who understands the sensitive and confidential nature of the issue is an important factor in helping you decide what to do if you suspect an older person, or those living with disability is being mistreated.
If someone is in immediate danger, you should not hesitate to call the relevant emergency services. Police can conduct a welfare check on anyone you may have concerns about. Likewise, where appropriate, you should try to ask general questions about the person’s wellbeing and their relationships, Relationships Australia suggests.
“Blame and judgement are never helpful. Listen to what the [alleged victim] says and be understanding. Understand that older people [and other vulnerable community members] are often hesitant to cause trouble, as they may feel ashamed or worried about possible consequences.”
Keeping a record of events can also prove helpful. By taking note of signs and symptoms, it may help those who investigate to effectively address the situation. Relationships Australia says it is also important that the person you suspect may have been taken advantage of feels that they are in control.
Keep checking on them where possible [and] if they are unwilling to get help, provide them with emotional support and offer contact details of support services should they want them later.”
Actions to take
- Protect the person you are concerned about.
- Preserve and record the evidence.
- Report the incident.
- Provide support to the abused person as well as the complainant.
- If necessary, take the matter further.
The emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing of our customers and staff is of utmost importance to the team at Just Better Care Australia. If you suspect someone you care about may be being exploited or at risk of experiencing abuse or neglect, please contact our team of trained professionals on 1300 587 823 or the Ageing and Disability Abuse Helpline on 1800 628 221.