400 cases of elderly abuse since 2013

The abuse took many forms, the most common being physical, but also psychological, sexual and even financial abuse.

There were some 400 reported cases of abuse of the elderly between 2013 and 2014, including reports of bodily harm, domestic violence, and theft according to Police Inspector Sylvana Briffa. 

Speaking to MaltaToday on the occasion of elderly abuse awareness day on Monday, Briffa said the abuse took on many forms, the most common being physical, but also psychological, sexual and even financial abuse.

Physical abuse consists not just of violent action or brutality causing harm or physical pain, but also hitting, slapping or pushing, or even misuse of medication. 

“Psychological abuse includes emotional, mental, verbal abuse, abusive language, manipulation, bullying, threats, humiliation or isolation among others, whereas sexual abuse was defined as non-consensual physical contact such as unwanted touching or kissing,” Briffa said. 

An often overlooked, but still very pronounced form of abuse is financial or material abuse which includes the use of money or goods without consent and to the disadvantage of an older person, including theft of money or goods, pressure in connection with wills and inheritance, as well as an abusive utilisation of the power of attorney.

This kind of violence was in fact highlighted during a public consultation led by parliamentary secretary for the elderly Justyne Caruana, who said many of the country’s elderly went through some form of financial abuse, especially when it comes to selling their property.

“This government is not happy to simply bring a higher degree of awareness about the potential risk of frail, elderly people of experiencing abusive relationships, but it is committed to establish legislative structures that address such situations,” Caruana said, referring to a new law which came into force last year precisely on the protection of elderly people.

“New forms of deterrent measures have been incorporated in the Criminal Code, introducing harsher penalties for crimes committed against older persons,” she said.

For the first time in Maltese legal history, the legal amendments make perpetrators of maltreatment towards older people liable for damages upon sentencing.

Inspector Briffa said that the abuse of the elderly tends to take place most often in their own home, with abusers often being adult children or other family members like grandchildren or spouses and partners. 

“However, abuse can also occur in institutional settings, especially in long-term care facilities,” Briffa added.

“It is best when a victim shows up soon after the incident in order to collect any physical and forensic evidence, such as swabs for body fluids, evidence of bodily injuries such as bruises or any signs of a struggle, and so forth,” she said, stressing the importance of immediately reporting such cases.

But even when there are no signs of physical abuse, the victim’s version of events is still evidence. “We rely a lot on the credibility of the person,” Briffa said.