Recognizing the signs of Elder Abuse
According to the National Center on elder abuse, elder abuse refers to intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or “trusted” individual that causes, or potentially causes, harm to a vulnerable elder. Elder abuse victims are usually dependent on the abuser, just like child abuse the abuse is typically revolving around primary care. For example, financial abuse is the most common and one of the easier types of abuse to prove and prosecute. 90% of perpetrators within elder abuse are relatives of the victim, opposed to domestic violence which are typically intimate partner relationships. And for every instance of elder abuse there are 5 that go unreported.
Historically, older people have not been considered potential or actual targets of sexual assault and, as a result, have been under-identified and underserved as victims. Some studies say that less five percent of victims presenting to emergency departments servicing sexual assault victims are older adults.
However, there is reason to believe that sexual assault against older people is even more underreported and hidden than assaults against younger age due to sexual violence later life occurring in private homes, community locations, and care facilities (Burgess et al., 2008; Eckert & Sugar, 2008). Perpetrators may target them due to their physical and cognitive vulnerabilities. (NSVRC)
But we need to think about life transitions and the stages of life. Older adults have the right to live however they want to live, if they don’t infringe on people around them and if they are competent enough to do so. Only if they are incompetent will Adult Protective Services get involved to determine self-neglect and abuse cases.
As stated earlier, life transitions and age can’t assume “elder abuse.” If the victim maintains the capacity to understand what is happening and make decisions, this is no different than any other special population of domestic violence victims. There are some additional challenges for victims of abuse in later life. Here are some things to consider when trying to differentiate between abuse in later life and elder abuse.
1. Longevity of relationship: may have been with abuser longer, increased dependency on abuser.
2. Parental role: If the abuser is their adult son or daughter, they may struggle with their feelings as a parent- they still love their children, want to protect them, etc.