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UN expert urges public action to halt abuse of elderly

UN expert urges public action to halt abuse of elderly by relatives


GENEVA (13 June 2017) – Many older people are at risk of being abused by their own relatives, a United Nations human rights expert has warned. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, Independent Expert on the human rights of older people, is urging greater vigilance and more reporting of suspected cases. Speaking ahead of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15 June, Ms. Kornfeld-Matte says most abuse goes undetected despite clear warning signs. Her full statement is as follows:

“The abuse of older people remains a taboo in many societies. It often happens inconspicuously and in many cases goes unnoticed, but we know that it occurs frequently and in all types of settings. No community or country in the world is immune.

I condemn elder abuse wherever and whenever it happens, but I am particularly appalled that older people are often at risk from members of their own family.

We must not close our eyes to the fate of older people, even though it is difficult to accept that our families are not always a safe haven. On this World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, I urge everyone who suspects any form of elder abuse, including financial abuse, to report their concerns.

Elder abuse takes many different forms. Some people suffer discrimination in the public sphere, linguistic discrimination, isolation, neglect and financial exploitation. Others face psychological violence, the withholding of basic needs, physical violence or sexual abuse.

Most cases go undetected despite clear warning signs – for example unexplained bruises, lack of medical care, malnutrition or dehydration, unexplained changes of alertness, or sudden changes in finances and accounts.

We cannot assume the victims will report what is happening to them. Despite facing abuse such as being physically restrained, left in soiled clothes, over-medicated or emotionally neglected, they may not speak up for fear of reprisals - or to protect family members from criminal prosecution.

In some cases, the victims may not be fully aware that what is happening to them constitutes abuse, or they may lack the means to report it, for example if they have no access to a phone or a trusted adult. They may even be physically or mentally incapable of communicating.

This all adds to the weight of our collective responsibility to act, and to speak up for older people when they are unable or unwilling to speak for themselves. All of us can and must be prepared to be advocates for the elderly, if this abuse is ever to be halted.

We also need to be aware that collective prejudice against older people and public awareness influences the way in which abuse and violence is perceived, recognized and reported. It is therefore essential to continue to raise awareness to help prevent some abuse cases and to ensure that those that take place are immediately reported.

It is to be regretted that there is no available data on the scale of the problem, as so many cases are currently not reported. And even if they are, crime statistics are not broken down into different age groups. We also need to be aware that intervention strategies which may be suitable for addressing the issue of domestic abuse are not suitable for managing violent relationships involving older people.

Abuse of older people is a specific, distinct and deeply disturbing form of abuse. We must all play our part in tackling it and restoring full human rights and human dignity to all those affected, or who face being at risk in the future.”

ENDS

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