New elder abuse role as concern mounts over elder abuse under-reporting
A new elder abuse position has started in Timaru as officials worry many instances of elder abuse could be going unreported every year.
Age Concern has assumed a Ministry of Social Development (MSD) contract in the region and has established a new, elder abuse clinician role.
Canterbury Age Concern chief executive officer Simon Templeton told a forum for social services in Timaru that there was an obvious annual increase in elder abuse cases across New Zealand.
He did not have historical data for South Canterbury, but said 180 cases became 250 between 2015 and 2016 in Christchurch.
Such figures were "just the tip of the iceberg" and there could be thousands of people abused in New Zealand each year.
The abuse could be physical, emotional, financial, sexual or institutional, he said.
"A couple of reasons it's unreported is people don't know where to report it to," Templeton said.
People also sometimes felt ashamed or fearful which led to them not reporting.
Age Concern assumed the South Canterbury contract previously held by Family Works in July.
Age Concern would focus on face to face contact with clients, and MSD would look after education and raising awareness, he said.
"One of my concerns around that particularly is that police and others who work in family violence they certainly understand and are aware of elder abuse, but it is a wee bit different to other family violence in the people who are perpetrating the violence, and their relationship to the victim and their gender is quite different."
Men were the perpetrators of 56 per cent of incidences of elder abuse, and woman accounted for 44 per cent.
The abuser was a family member 77 per cent of the time, and often a child of the victim.
The victim usually did not want to situation to go through court.
"That does happen in other family violence [situations] as well, but certainly that's a common theme that we see is older people saying 'I kind of want the abuse to stop but we want to maintain a relationship [with the abuser]'," he said.
MSD media advisor Matt Radley said a lot of work was being done by MSD to raise awareness. A free call number - 0800 32 688 65 - was established in July, and there was a website (superseniors.msd.govt.nz).
Grey Power Timaru president Denise Fitzgerald said there was a good network for getting messages out to elderly people from various services.
But she questioned how comfortable someone might be reporting something to MSD: "Going to a Government authority it takes a bit more courage, you think 'oh I wonder if I should'."
Age Concern elder abuse clinician Sarah Hendry is based at Community House on Strathallan St. she can be contacted on 6877327.