£1.3m to study justice and elder abuse

Left to Right: Professor Alan Clarke, Sarah Wydall and Professor John Williams

Left to Right: Professor Alan Clarke, Sarah Wydall and Professor John Williams

15 June 2015

Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. As part of a £1.3m research project on justice and elder abuse, researchers at Aberystwyth University are exploring a range of factors that may influence whether older victims of abuse choose to access criminal or civil justice processes.

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.

The work is undertaken at the Centre for Ageing, Abuse and Neglect, which is one of the research centres based at the Department of Law and Criminology.

Although the fact that we live longer is welcome, a consequence of an ageing population is that older people may experience abuse at the hands of people they trust.  Within the United Kingdom, there has been considerable media coverage of elder abuse in hospitals, care homes and other institutional settings.

However, older people are also abused in their own homes.  It may be financial, physical, emotional or sexual.  Perpetrators may be family members, people who are supposed to provide care, or so called friends. 

The impact of abuse on the older person is often significant leading to social isolation, poor nutrition, fuel poverty and debt.  These are in addition to the risk of physical harm because of violence or neglect.

The researchers are concerned that many victims of elder abuse fail to get justice.  Prosecutions are rare as are actions under the civil law.  Although in some cases prosecution may be the right thing to do, it may also be inappropriate and may worsen the situation for the older person.

The dynamics of elder abuse are complex. An older person who is financially abused by a grandchild, may not want to see them prosecuted – that would impose a strain on the family and could lead to breakdown within the family and the older person being deprived of wider family support. 

Professor John Williams, Head of the Department of Law and Criminology at Aberystwyth University said; “Our earlier research shows that victims of elder abuse want two things. First, they want the abuse to end.  Second, they want justice. What justice means is often uncertain.  It does not necessarily mean criminal proceedings.  Other justice options are needed which ensure that the abuse ends and provides the older person with a sense that justice has been done.  The project will develop alternative justice options working with older people who are experiencing abuse.”

Sarah Wydall, Lecturer in Criminology at Aberystwyth University said; “This project addresses a failure of existing procedures to provide victims of elder abuse with a sense of justice and reassurance that the abuse will not continue.  It is highly innovative in its approach, particularly the involvement of victims and the integration of research and practice.  Although based in Wales, the findings of the project will have international significance.”

The is a four year project and has the support of national charities, local authorities and the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales.