Building justice options with older people in Wales

According to the 2007 Prevalence Study (Department of Health & Comic Relief) more than 39,000 older people in Wales per year are estimated to be victims of abuse.

According to the 2007 Prevalence Study (Department of Health & Comic Relief) more than 39,000 older people in Wales per year are estimated to be victims of abuse.

02 October 2015

Researchers at the Department of Law and Criminology at Aberystwyth University are calling on people who work with, or support elderly people in Carmarthenshire to contribute to a major study into abuse against older people.

As part of the £1.3m Big Lottery funded study, the team is hosting a free one day conference on Thursday 22nd October at the Halliwell Centre, Carmarthen, entitled Building Justice Options with Older People in Wales.

Anyone interested in issues related to abuse against older people in Carmarthenshire is invited to attend the conference, which will feature keynote speakers Sarah Rochira, Older People’s Commissioner of Wales, and Eleri Butler, CEO of Welsh Women’s Aid.

The study, entitled Choice, is being undertaken by the Centre for the Study of Ageing, Abuse and Neglect at Aberystwyth University’s Department of Law and Criminology.

Choice has been developed to raise awareness about the abuse of older people in their own homes and design and test an entirely new approach based on restorative principles.

Trained justice workers and a facilitator work with older people who have been abused in this way, to explore the range of options (civil, criminal and restorative), to ensure they and their families feel fully informed about the range of opportunities available to them. 

The study focuses on two pilot areas in the UK, Carmarthenshire and Cardiff and works in partnership with older people, communities, professionals and trained volunteers.

According to the 2007 Prevalence Study (Department of Health & Comic Relief), elder abuse is happening to thousands of older people in Wales every day, with more than 39,000 older people in Wales per year – a proportionately higher figure than the rest of the UK – estimated to be victims of abuse.

Professor Alan Clarke, Principal Investigator on Choice said: “Significant numbers of older people experience abuse and neglect in their own homes and can be isolated from people who might be able to help them.  We need to ensure that those being abused get the help and support they need.  Our project is designed to work with older people to explore ways in which service users might best access justice through the courts or by means of restorative approaches.”

“We want to work with local communities in Carmarthenshire to give them a voice and involve them in developing and evaluating new ways of promoting justice and well-being for older people.”

Conference details
The conference will be on Thursday 22nd October 2015 at the Halliwell Centre, Carmarthen. As spaces are limited, if you would like to attend the free conference please express your interest to Jeremy Newman by telephone 01970 622516 or email by 12th October 2015.

If you are interested in hearing more about the research or would like to find out more about the volunteering opportunities, with training available where appropriate, please contact the team using the details above. For the latest updates on the project follow us on Twitter @choiceolderppl.

What is elder abuse?
Any older person can experience abuse in their own home. In 2012 the evaluation of the ‘Access to Justice’ Pilot Project carried out by Prof Alan Clarke, Prof John Williams, Sarah Wydall and Rebecca Zerk found that although it is often women who are the most likely victims, men can also be victimised. It is not always an individual who is targeted, sometimes couples may be victims and there can be more than one abuser in any one case.

Abuse can take a number of different forms including; emotional, physical, financial or sexual. Mistreatment and neglect can also be seen as forms of abuse.  This may involve ‘active neglect’, where a family member deliberately withholds care or ‘passive neglect’, where an informal carer does not know how to provide adequate care. 

In some cases of abuse, the harm caused may be a consequence of an individual reacting to changed circumstances in later life, such as struggling to cope with the daily care of a loved one. 

Example 1
Mary and Gladys from Cilycwm have been in an intimate relationship for 20 years. Gladys has been suffering from dementia for a number of years and Mary is spending an increasing amount of time caring for her and is unable to socialise as much as she used to. Mary is frustrated by this situation and is showing aggressive behaviour towards Gladys. When Mary goes to bingo once a week she locks Gladys in her room. Mary says she does this to prevent her from harming herself. Mary knows she needs help to care for Gladys but fear that she will be taken into a care home.

Sometimes mistreatment can be normalised, or indeed excused by the abused person, as they may wrongly see themselves as being in some way responsible for the situation.  For example, where a long-term illness occurs, the sufferer may feel they have become a burden on other family members and this may result in a change in the nature and quality of family life. However, as in the case of domestic abuse, there are examples of elder abuse where one person deliberately uses methods to control many aspects of another person’s life – which is a form of abuse.

Example 2
Mr and Mrs Jones from Llandeilo have been married for 42 years. Mr. Jones retired from the army and now lives permanently at home with his wife. Since her husband retired, Mrs Jones feels overwhelmed with his domestic demands and expectations. He is constantly criticising and humiliating her in front of their friends which embarrasses her. If Mrs Jones tells him how she feels he becomes verbally aggressive and sometimes Mrs Jones feels intimidated. Prior to Mr Jones retirement their relationship was a positive one. Mrs Jones does not want to tell their children, family or friends about his behaviour because she doesn’t want people to think badly of him. Mrs Jones feels that her husband is finding it difficult to come to terms with not working and could be on the verge of depression.

Elder abuse can often be hidden from the local community, especially in rural areas, as many people do not wish to report that a family member, possibly a spouse, child or grandchild is mistreating them, because this may lead to a breakdown in family relationships together with friends and the local community possibly becoming aware of their situation, which could be embarrassing.

Example 3
Mr Davies’s son, Simon has recently separated from his wife and been made redundant at work. Simon is experiencing financial difficulty and has moved in with his father in Ammanford. Simon is depressed and reliant on alcohol. Simon has been taking £30 from his father’s pension every week to help fund his alcohol addiction. Although Mr Davies feels sorry for Simon’s situation, in the past he has challenged his son about taking the money. He no longer does so, because when challenged, Simon became very agitated, upset and abusive towards him. Simon is also quite often rude towards any visitors to the house and this has caused people to stop visiting and so Mr Davies is feeling lonely.

Often when an older person is abused they may not wish to seek criminal action against a family member who is abusing them. This could be because victims can mistakenly blame themselves in some way for the abuse and the victim believes the person causing the harm needs help, not necessarily punishment.

Many victims feel isolated and alone in dealing with the abuse and do not know where to go to seek help. Recent research conducted by Aberystwyth University – ‘Access to Justice’, showed that in two-thirds of cases of elder abuse, there was no evidence that justice options had been discussed with the older person.

Choice will raise awareness of the existing criminal and civil options for older people who experience abuse as well as discussing the new restorative option, to help them make informed decisions.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from elder abuse then you can call one of the following helplines for advice and support:

Age Concern Wales Advice Line 0800 223 444
Action on Elder Abuse 080 8808 8141
Silver Line Helpline 0800 470 80 90
Hafan Cymru, Carmarthen 01267 221194
Age Cymru, Llanelli O1554 784080
All Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 80 10 800 Abulplin
Carmarthen Domestic Abuse Services 01267 234 725
Amman Valley Women’s Aid 01268 597 474
Llanelli Women’s Aid 01554 741 212