This article was published by Lethbridge Herald on March 16th 2012. To see this article and other related articles on the Lethbridge Herald website, please click here.
The federal government’s plan to introduce tougher sentences for those convicted of elder abuse has prompted a debate about whether that’s the best way to deal with the problem.
Susan Eng of the seniors advocacy group CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons) said in a Canadian Press story in Thursday’s Herald that sentences for those found guilty of abusing an elderly person are often lenient. She suggested that by imposing stiffer jail terms, the government would send a message to other levels of government and police that elder abuse must be taken more seriously.
But critics argue that putting abusers in jail for longer periods will do little to fix the problem. “It is so easy for them to just throw everyone in jail and ignore the problems,” said NDP seniors critic Irene Mathyssen.
It might be debatable whether harsher punishment is the solution to the problem of elder abuse, but there’s no debating the fact that the issue needs to be dealt with.
The CP story said research by academics, Statistics Canada and seniors’ advocates suggests that almost one in 10 Canadian seniors experience abuse of some form. The Alberta Elder Abuse Awareness Network estimates that there are about 23,000 Alberta seniors experiencing one or more forms of abuse. There are various kinds of elder abuse – financial, emotional, physical – and all can have a devastating effect on the victims.
The AEAAN website (www.albertaelderabuse.ca) says “it takes a community to respond to elder abuse.” It makes sense that if the community as a whole is involved with its senior population, there’s less likelihood of seniors becoming isolated and falling victim to abuse.
The problem of elder abuse is likely to become more prevalent as the seniors population grows in the coming years and decades. That’s why it’s important for governments at all levels to take the issue seriously now before it gets out of hand. Not dealing with the problem produces an enormous social cost in terms of emotional suffering and decreased quality of life for the victims, and sometimes physical harm or even death.
Elderly Canadians are some of society’s most vulnerable citizens and they deserve to be protected from abuse no matter what form it takes.