1. An organism that lives by preying on other organisms.
2. One that victimizes, plunders, or destroys, especially for one’s own gain.
In the wild, predators use jaws and talons. In the human world, predators use trust and influence.
There are various definitions of elder abuse – physical, psychological or financial – but the single most important element is trust, or rather, the breach of trust. And it is the violation of this most generous of sentiments – trusting someone close to you – that makes elder abuse so deplorable.
There is limited research into the prevalence of elder abuse but there are alarming trends. The majority of abuse is perpetrated against women and increases with age. Your answers to our survey will either confirm or refute these findings.
In our research, we found a myriad of responses to what everyone agrees is an important issue. But despite all the conferences, legislation, declaration of June 15th as Elder Abuse Awareness Day in Canada, elder abuse units in police services and help lines, coalitions everywhere – all significant and useful initiatives – the scourge remains and possibly is growing. In fact, researchers believe that much abuse goes unreported because there is so much shame and isolation, also important ingredients of elder abuse.
In this newsletter, we canvass some of the fact situations that people could confront. We asked some experts in elder law to share some observations from their growing practices in trying to defend their clients from abuse that comes to light. Their compassion and frustration are evident in their messages. And while no one is suggesting that such cases are commonplace, they do provide an object lesson. These things do happen.
And it can happen to anyone. The recent case of a Moncton woman convicted and jailed for extreme neglect of her mother who died as a consequence is heartening only because she was caught and punished. But before you think that kind of thing only happens because they were poor and the daughter had limited intelligence, consider the high profile case of the New York socialite, Brooke Astor,whose son used a broad network of lawyers and other professionals to take her millions for himself. Eventually friends and a grandson intervened to give her a year of peace before her death and the son has been charged.
So what to do? Awareness is the first weapon. Self-protection is another. Having someone to intervene and set a public example like Goldhawk does is a real boon but how many like him are out there? There are laws put in place in response to community advocacy and police and other agencies ready to enforce them. The Moncton conviction is a case in point. There are still too few shelters and social services, but they exist.
How will things change – and more quickly than they have to date? Maybe we have to recast the issue. Discussion of elder abuse often uses the language of “victims”. The focus should be on their abusers, the predators – and how you can make these predators extinct. The next step is yours to take – if not for yourself then for someone you know and love.