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Elder Abuse: The Silent Crime

Last month, CityNews published that according to Toronto police, two to 10 per cent (about 40,000 to 200,000) of seniors are abused in Ontario alone.

A study by the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly found that in Canada, 8.2% of seniors were victims of elder abuse and neglect. This represented 766,247 Canadians. 

The issue is expected to become more widespread over the next few decades, as baby boomers age. By 2030, about one in four people in Canada will be 65 or older.

But what is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is not defined anywhere in Canadian legislation. The Toronto Declaration on the Prevention of Elder Abuse defines elder abuse as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person”. 

Abuse or neglect against an elderly person can take various forms, including psychological abuse, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and financial exploitation.

In the case of financial abuse, the perpetrator (who is usually someone close to the senior, such as his/her adult child or grandchild, or a spouse or caregiver) may persuade or coerce a senior into:

1.     Giving the perpetrator money (in small or large amounts);

2.     Transferring property to the perpetrator;

3.     Signing off authority to bank accounts and investments to the perpetrator; and

4.     Granting or revoking a power of attorney.

These are simply some of the ways that seniors may be financially exploited.

Who are the perpetrators of elder abuse?

The following findings were published in the study by the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly, linked to above:

Overall, in order of prevalence, perpetrators of elder abuse and neglect are most often the senior’s spouse/ex-spouse (31%), adult child/grandchild (25%), neighbours (14%), friends (11%), caregivers (9%), siblings (5%), and service providers (3%).

In situations of financial abuse, the perpetrator was most likely an adult child/grandchild (37%).

The Toronto Police’s Vulnerable Persons Coordinator Jason Peddle, explains that in Toronto, the victim’s child is the perpetrator in 43 per cent of cases. 

The Underreporting of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is grossly underreported.

There are a variety of reasons why elders may feel hesitant to report these crimes, including shame and embarrassment, fear, dependency, minimalizing or rationalizing the abuse, protecting the perpetrator, inability to report the abuse, as well as an inability to recognize the abuse. 

As Canada’s population continues to age, it will be increasingly important for individuals to raise awareness of elder abuse and its prevalence. Solicitors, for instance, must keep alive to questions of capacity and undue influence when interviewing clients. See WEL Partners’ Practice Checklists for further insight and practice tips.

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