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Abuse of Older People: Crime or Family Dynamics?

NCJ Number
Pamela Kinnear; Adam Graycar
Date Published
6 pages
This paper examines the extent of the abuse of elderly people in Australia and considers strategies for addressing such crimes against the elderly.
Broadly defined, "elder abuse," a term in use for only the last 15-20 years, covers "any behavior or pattern of behavior by a person or persons which results in harm to an older person." Little consensus exists on the range of harms that this broad definition should include. In the main, Australian studies, working papers, and policy documents have adopted a relatively straightforward, multidimensional typology of abuse that includes categories such as physical abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect, and economic abuse. Some studies have included an extra category of sexual abuse. Unlike American analyses, Australian definitions tend to exclude categories of self-neglect. In 1992, Kurrle, Cameron, and Sadler made the first and only systematic attempt to establish a prevalence rate for elderly abuse in Australia; they estimated that approximately 4.6 percent of older people are abused in some way. This rate broadly corresponds to similar overseas studies. Most of the research on risk factors has focused on identifying individual pathologies, either on the part of the victim or of the perpetrator, or pathologies of the family environment. Studies have shown the significant influence of dependency of the abused on the abuser. Responses to elderly abuse can include informal mechanisms such as the raising of community awareness of the problem and the creating of a widespread intolerance for it. Formal responses include various types of legal interventions. This paper concludes with a discussion of lessons from domestic violence or child abuse responses and suggests future actions related to defining, researching, and responding to the problem. 22 references