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Probono: Preventing seniors abuse

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Cite as: August 2015 89 (8) LIJ, p.66

Family violence legislation and risk assessment frameworks must be adapted to cover elder abuse.

  • Older people experiencing financial harm caused by family members may not be recognised as victims of elder abuse or family violence.
  • Ageist attitudes – rather than gender inequality – are regarded as the dominant underlying cause of elder abuse.
  • Some risk factors for elder abuse, such as having valuable assets, are different from the risk factors for family violence.

Doris lost her home. She transferred it to her son, Frank, who promised he would care for her. As Doris’s health deteriorated, Frank said he couldn’t look after her and told her she was on her own – with no home and no money. Older people just like Doris, who experience significant financial harm caused by family members, may not be recognised as victims of elder abuse or family violence. This is because elder abuse remains societally hidden, even though it is regarded internationally as a violation of human rights, leading to depression, homelessness and increased mortality.1 Financial elder abuse can have a particularly profound effect on older people, having neither the time nor the capacity to recover.2

This lack of public awareness was evident when elder abuse was not expressly contemplated in the original terms of reference for the Royal Commission into Family Violence. The commission subsequently made statements that it would like to understand elder abuse as part of the inquiry. Justice Connect Seniors Law – a free legal service for older Victorians – made a submission to the commission focusing on its work with the health and community sector to assist older people experiencing financial elder abuse.

While there are some similarities between elder abuse and family violence, the submission highlights some important distinctions. Ageist attitudes – rather than gender inequality – are regarded as the dominant underlying cause of elder abuse. Justice Connect’s casework suggests that approximately 35 per cent of clients experiencing elder abuse are men and 65 per cent are women, perpetrated by males in 47 per cent of matters and by females in 30 per cent. In the remaining 23 per cent of matters the perpetration of elder abuse could be attributed to both genders.

Further, some risk factors for elder abuse – such as accumulating significant assets – would not necessarily be recognised as risk factors for family violence. Given the different underlying causes and risk factors of elder abuse, family violence legislation and risk assessment frameworks must be adapted accordingly.

The submission can be viewed at

Faith Hawthorne is a Justice Connect Seniors Law program lawyer and Lauren Adamson is Seniors Law manager 1. Wendy Lacey, “Neglectful to the Point of Cruelty? Elder abuse and the rights of older persons in Australia” (2014) 36(99) Sydney Law Review, 99–130, 106–7 citing World Health Organisation, Missing Voices: Views of older persons on elder abuse (2002) 2; World Health Organisation, Active Ageing: A Policy Framework (2002) 29. 2. Peteris Darzins, Georgia Lowndes and Jo Wainer, Financial Abuse of Elders: A review of the evidence, 2009, Monash University (2009).

To help lawyers and firms become involved in pro bono work – legal services and otherwise – the LIJ profiles a community group and its needs each month.

Blind Sports Australia

Blind Sports Australia is the national governing body for blind and vision-impaired sport in Australia, and Australia’s representative to the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA). It oversees the local and state levels of blind and vision-impaired sport through its member organisations. Together, these organisations seek to work in the best interests of blind and vision-impaired athletes to promote participation and advocate on behalf of members.

Current needs of group

Blind Sports Australia needs a lawyer to review and develop various policies for Blind Sports Australia, including a privacy policy, code of conduct, member protection, selection criteria, athletes’ agreements, MOUs, grants and acquittal statements. This request is for one-off assistance estimated to take one to two days.

To volunteer for this role, email Joanna Cantwell at See for more skilled volunteering opportunities. For more information about volunteering, in general see and


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