Journal article

Neglectful to the point of cruelty? Elder abuse and the rights of older persons in Australia

30 Mar 2015

Australia’s ageing population is growing and so too is the number of older persons who experience abuse. Divorce, ill-health, disability, the death of a partner, dependency, poverty, social isolation, gender, and even the accumulation of assets, can heighten a person’s vulnerability to abuse — physical, social, sexual, psychological, financial or neglect. Addressing elder abuse from a legal and policy perspective is not, however, simple. Perceived Commonwealth dominance in the ageing portfolio, despite the lack of a comprehensive legislative mandate to safeguard older Australians; a lack of innovative legal reform at the state level; ageism; the invisibility of our older people; a lack of awareness within the community of both the prevalence, nature and the signs of elder abuse; together with the absence of an international normative framework for protecting the rights of older persons, have together created a situation where elder abuse is simply not widely acknowledged as a serious issue in Australia and is inadequately addressed under existing laws. This article examines the current legal situation in Australia and calls for a collaborative national strategy for preventing and responding to elder abuse, incorporating a rights-based approach to the review and reform of state and territory laws. Recognising that elder abuse involves the denial of a person’s basic human rights, including the right to live free from abuse, exploitation or neglect, this article calls for a national inquiry into elder abuse by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

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