Abuse and neglect of older or vulnerable persons is not a new problem. Although present for many years in our society, it has existed in relative silence, denial and isolation. It is not usually talked about and difficult to solve unless people recognize the abuse and let someone know it is happening. Many acts of abuse are crimes.
Abuse can happen to any person, but certain factors can increase vulnerability. These include mental or physical impairment and / or cultural or language barriers. Abused, older or vulnerable persons are often socially isolated with few family or friends in whom to confide.
Anyone can be an abuser. Abusers can be any family member and are often people who depend on the older person for shelter and financial support. Abusers can also be neighbours, hired caregivers, friends or strangers canvassing or selling products door-to-door.
Abuse or neglect is seldom reported for a variety of reasons
- Victims don’t always know their rights or what can be done.
- They think police or other agencies can’t help them.
- Some don’t speak English
- Some are afraid of what the abuser will do if they report the abuse
- Some are afraid they will be placed in an institution.
- The victim may also feel ashamed because of what their family member or caregiver is doing to them, or they are simply embarrassed that they were taken advantage of or scammed.
Types of Abuse
- Slapping, hitting, shaking, punching, or other rough handling.
- Sexual assault or any unwanted form of sexual activity.
- Finally forced confinement to a room, a bed or chair.
- Frauds, forgery, thefts or the dishonest use of a person’s money or assets.
- Misuse of Power of Attorney or forcing someone to sign a will.
- Overcharging or high-pressure sales of a service or a product.
- Humiliating, threatening, or frightening an older or vulnerable person.
- Not allowing an older or vulnerable person to make decisions or deliberate social isolation.
- Ignoring the person or treating them like they are a child.
- Failing to give someone who is dependent of what he or she needs.
- Over / under medication dosage
- Abandonment or leaving someone in an unsafe or isolated place.
- Is the inability of an older or vulnerable person to adequately take care of themselves.
Signs of possible abuse or neglect
- Unexplained injuries or a history of “accidents”, poor hygiene, or bed sores
- Depression, fear, anxiety, withdrawal, or weight loss
- Dehydration or lack of food, clothing, medicine, or other necessities of life
- Unnecessary purchases or repairs to house property
- Unexplained loss or misuse of property items such as banking records or wills
What Can the Police Do?
Many types of abuse or neglect are crimes. If you have been abused, or if you think someone else is being abused, call the police. This is a very important step in protecting yourself or those you may believe are in jeopardy. Experience shows us that when abuse is not identified and stopped, the level of abuse often increases.
When calling the police you can remain anonymous. However, you may be asked for your name and phone number should more information need to be required. If you are still hesitant about calling and know someone who is being abused or neglected, you can remain completely anonymous by contacting Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
On arrival, the first responsibility of the police is to ensure everyone’s safety. Once the situation is safe, a thorough investigation will be conducted which may include:
- A detailed (possibly videotaped) statement from the victim.
- If there is a language barrier, an interpreter will be provided.
- Photographs of any injuries or the scene.
- Statements from others who may have evidence: family, friends, neighbours.
- Medical reports, financial statements, or other relevant documentation.
- A background check of any past reports of abuse.
- An interview of others who may have knowledge of previous abuse incidents.
During this interview process, it is very important for you to tell the police what has happened and if it has happened before. Let them know if you are afraid of the abuser. On completion of the investigation, you will be apprised of the results. Any concerns you may have will be discussed and appropriate support information will be provided.
If the evidence is sufficient to believe that a crime has occurred, charges may be laid. Depending on the circumstances, the offender may be arrested and his/her release from jail may be opposed. If the offender is held in custody, he/she will receive a bail hearing before a Justice of the Peace. At that time, bail may be denied or a release with or without conditions may be issued.
You may have to testify in court. If so, there are a number of options, supports and services available to you. These may include assistance from Seniors’ Support Officers, Victim Services and Victim/Witness programs.
What Can you Do?
- If you suspect someone is being abused, get involved. You may be able to prevent further abuse or reduce the harm caused.
- Whether you live in your own home, at a retirement home or Long Term Care Facility, know your rights; ask for advice if you think something is wrong.
- To minimize the risk for abuse, Stay Active, Stay Sociable, Maintain and increase your network of friends and acquaintances. New activities can bring new friends. Have regular contact with family and friends either by phone or visits at home. Have your own phone number and check your own mail.
- Be cautious about permitting adult children back into your home to live, especially if they have a past history of violence or substance abuse.
- Familiarize yourself with your spouse’s tasks to ensure your continued independence.
- Stay organized. Know where your important papers and financial records are. Make sure that others know that you know where these things are kept.
- Plan now for later. Get legal advice and make arrangements now for documents like Powers of Attorney, your Will or finances. Don’t let anyone keep the details of your finances from you.
- Find out what community resources are available to you in your area. Know who to call for assistance when you need personal care, housekeeping, groceries, Meals on Wheels, transportation etc.
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