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Reporting cases of elder abuse should be mandatory, an advocacy group says

Government figures show that only one in 10 cases of elder abuse are reported.
Photo: 123RF

The advocacy group is calling for mandatory reporting of elder abuse and making it a specific crime.

Government data showed that 75 percent of elder abuse cases involved family members, with only one in 10 cases reported.

Wendy Schollum, chair of the Positive Aging Trust in Hawke’s Bay, said she had heard “shocking” examples of elder abuse that included an elderly man being physically restrained by his own family.

“His whānau was actually restraining him during the day trying to deal with him, so there was nothing wrong with him, but he was being restrained in his own home.”

There were also examples of emotional abuse.

“The older woman was constantly ridiculed and told she was useless and a burden on the family, which really wore on her over time.”

Schollum said that in New Zealand, existing laws dealing with general offenses such as fraud and assault had been used to address elder abuse.

“But they don’t really go far enough and cover all forms of harassment,” she said.

She provided examples of specific elder abuse crimes in the US.

“They (also) have specialized law enforcement units that deal with this, so they have a high prosecution rate and, thanks to this legislation, much better protection for victims.”

However, Seniors Minister Casey Costello said the US has a completely different criminal system.

“We have a range of offenses that can provide protection for vulnerable people, for those who lack capacity to consent, there are a range of safeguards in place, and in New Zealand there is no real evidence that we do not prosecute for lack of an appropriate offence.

“I think we’re not prosecuting because there’s a lack of reporting and a lack of willingness to report.”

She wanted to focus on building awareness.

Costello said she is also cautious about making elder abuse reporting mandatory.

“I would be really concerned that there would be older adults who would be reluctant to talk about their problems if they thought that a family member they had a close relationship with might get into trouble.”

She wanted more information on the impact of mandatory reporting on reporting rates.

Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.