Rights of the elderly

Left to right: Rebecca Boaler, Jeremy Newman and Sarah Wydall from the Centre for the Study of Ageing, Abuse and Neglect.

Left to right: Rebecca Boaler, Jeremy Newman and Sarah Wydall from the Centre for the Study of Ageing, Abuse and Neglect.

07 November 2013

Researchers from the Centre for the Study of Ageing, Abuse and Neglect at Aberystwyth University are exploring barriers to accessing justice for older victims of domestic abuse.

Every year it is estimated that more than 500,000 older people experience abuse in the UK which can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual abuse and neglect.

In a bid to tackle elder abuse as a form of domestic abuse, academics at Aberystwyth University are examining a range of factors that may influence whether older victims of abuse choose to access criminal or civil justice processes.

Sarah Wydall, a lecturer in the Department of Law and Criminology, has been commissioned by the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales to undertake a Wales–wide research project entitled Adult protection, domestic abuse and hate crime.

This new study seeks to explore how different referral mechanisms across adult protection and the police service may influence access to justice opportunities for people aged sixty years and over.

The findings of the study will be published later this year and presented at an all-Wales meeting attended by the Police Crime Commissioners and representatives from Welsh Government. Rebecca Boaler, a PhD student, and Jeremy Newman from the Department, are assisting Sarah with the fieldwork.

The newly formed Centre for the Study of Ageing, Abuse and Neglect seeks to examine in further detail how older people can be better supported in making informed choices and given a voice when seeking justice.

The current project seeks to understand some of the individual and organisational barriers that may deter older people from engaging with the justice process.

Sarah Wydall said; “We wanted to see how an individual would access criminal and civil systems, and what opportunities are really available where an older person has experienced abuse by a family member.”

“We also want to understand where people were falling through the gaps in the system and how the police, social services and all the other agencies are working together to provide the best service for that individual.”

“Wales is indeed leading the way in the field of domestic abuse, and very little is known about elder abuse as a form of domestic abuse. It is very interesting for our research group to be in a position to address issues relating to elder abuse that challenge the efficacy of current justice mechanisms when a relationship exists between victims and perpetrator.

“It is a basic human right to be protected from harm or violation and we need to learn how we may enable older people to have a voice, be empowered and be in a position to use the law should they wish to do so.”

The research is informed by a series of recent studies on elder abuse and justice undertaken by the new research centre, which was set up by Professor John Williams, Professor Alan Clarke and Sarah Wydall.

One of these studies evaluated the *Access to Justice options available for victims of elder abuse. This initiative was an outcome of the 2010 Domestic Violence Strategy The Right to be Safe, which identified priorities for tackling violence, including improving the response of criminal justices agencies.

Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Sarah Rochira, said; “Standing up for older people at risk of harm is a key priority for me as Commissioner, as outlined in my recently published four-year strategy.

“Many older people, as well as those who work with and support them, have highlighted a number of potential barriers that may prevent access to the justice system in cases where abuse has occurred.

“It is therefore vital to explore these barriers in greater detail so that they can be addressed effectively and I look forward to working with the team in Aberystwyth to take this important work forward.”

The Centre for the Study of Ageing, Abuse and Neglect works closely with the Older People’s Ageing Network (OPAN) to ensure that older people are involved in the research process.  A series of workshops are being planned on elder abuse and justice as part of an exercise to help inform future policy and practice.

*Access to Justice

The Access to Justice pilot was the first scheme in the UK to examine multi-agency responses to elder abuse in the home.  The research findings highlighted that in two-thirds of all relevant cases, criminal or civil justice options were not discussed with victims. For further information on this study see Clarke, A., Williams, J., Wydall, S., Boaler, R (2012) ‘An Evaluation of the Access to Justice Pilot Project’, Welsh Government. http://wales.gov.uk/docs/caecd/research/121220accesstojusticeen.pdf