Shhh… don’t talk about elderly abuse

With 214 cases of elderly abuse recorded until September, LAURA CALLEJA reports on a taboo afflicting an ageing society

There were 214 cases of elderly abuse reported to the police in the first nine months of this year, figures tabled in Parliament show.

Domestic abuse accounted for more than half of these cases. But as shocking as this statistic may be, it comes as no surprise for Renee Laiviera, head of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality.

“I am not surprised that elderly abuse is still so prevalent in Maltese society as the elderly tend to be reliant on those that abuse them and therefore are less likely to speak out,” she said.

The elderly made up roughly 20% of the population in 2018, according to the National Statistics Office. There were 89,517 persons in Malta aged 65 and over, with 55% being women.

Malta is an ageing society much like other countries in the western hemisphere. This has prompted greater focus on the treatment of this vulnerable group but the taboo still has to be broken.

Laiviera said support for the elderly had to be strengthened. “We need to stop treating elderly abuse as a taboo that we don’t talk about. It was the same story with domestic abuse which we’ve only begun to talk about in the last 20 years – and even then, persons in places of power had told us ‘how dare we?’.”

She said the next step was to empower victims to come forward. Although, she acknowledged that elderly persons lacked trust in third parties and were often too afraid to come forward even to family members.

“Victims will only come forward if they believe in the system, and believe that if they do come forward they will receive the help they need and deserve,” Laiviera said.

Criminologist Saviour Formosa believes the figures related to elderly abuse would be slightly lower than those reported since in many cases the numbers displayed would include any person in the room at the time the report was made.

However, the figures tabled in Parliament by Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia are on par with past trend.

In 2015, police inspector Sylvana Briffa had told MaltaToday that some 400 cases of abuse of the elderly had been reported between 2013 and 2014 which included bodily harm and domestic abuse.

Briffa had warned that the abuse of the elderly tended to take place in their own home, with abusers often being adult children or family members like grandchildren, spouses or partners.

An extensive study by the NCPE in 2015 revealed how 81% of perpetrators were either husbands or partners, while 16% were children and grandchildren, and just 3% were wives.

The study found that the majority of abuse started during the ages of 20 and 30 and that most of the victims had been abused for many years.
The study also found that 31% had suffered from psychological and or emotional abuse, 30% suffered from neglect, 27% suffered from physical abuse, 25% from financial manipulation and 20% from sexual abuse.

The abuse in 35% of cases happened at home and in front of neighbours and close friends, whilst a significant 65% occurred solely at home behind closed doors and in front of children.

The study found that not only was psychological and emotional abuse the most common form of abuse – it was the form of abuse that was the most likely to see both male and female victims equally.

Laiviera said violence was inexcusable but called for more awareness on the difficulties faced by those who look after those in vulnerable positions.

“One must understand that looking after the elderly isn’t an easy job – carers also need to be given the support that will enable them to look after such a vulnerable group to the best of their ability. However, despite this, violence against any group, especially the elderly should not be condoned,” she said.

Laiviera said that more attention needed to be given to the work-life balance of carers, as well as to elderly care in general.

“From research, we know that a portion of the abuse and neglect comes from persons who are overloaded with work and are unable to cope.

However, even if the abuse is coming from those that just have violent tendencies, those persons also need to be given help,” she added.

More in National