A preventable plague

Image of statue
Image of statue

Family is something we should all be able to depend as we grow older – for safety, care and good company. But for many Australians who experience elder abuse, this is not always the case.

Elder abuse is a form of family violence. It is any act that harms an older person, caused by someone they know or trust. It includes financial, physical, psychological or sexual abuse, and neglect. In many cases, the harm is caused unintentionally, and the older person may not even recognise that they are experiencing abuse.

Regardless of intent, elder abuse is unacceptable. Fortunately, it is also preventable. Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) works with communities in Melbourne’s east to promote seniors’ rights and prevent elder abuse from occurring. “Older people often stay silent about abuse because they’re afraid of losing their family”, said Anita Koochew, Community Lawyer at ECLC. “But when older people know their rights, and families talk openly about what’s okay and what’s not, it helps to prevent issues that can lead to family breakdowns.”

Elder abuse occurs in all communities. However, ECLC works closely with culturally and linguistically diverse communities who may find it more difficult to access help and information. Over 100 people recently attended a Family Day and Discussion Forum in Glen Waverley, hosted by ECLC with the Indian community. “We are a multicultural community here in the east. We come from all walks of life, all faiths and cultures”, said Dilnaz Billimoria, a leader in the Indian community and advisor to ECLC. “For some of us, issues like elder abuse have been taboo. You wouldn’t tell your own brother or sister if you noticed something was wrong.” “But things are changing. We are seeing people take a pledge to protect their older loved ones, and stand up against elder abuse.”

A range of community services, including representatives from Victoria Police, attended the Family Day event. Ms Billimoria said it was helpful for the community to understand that a wide network of help is available for older people and families experiencing elder abuse. “In some parts of the world, the last thing you would do is talk to police because it truly symbolises a crisis. But in this community, police are one of many services that will listen to you, support you and respect your wishes.” “No matter what language you speak or what your cultural background is, someone will be there to help. There is no shame in reaching out.”

Eastern Community Legal Centre offers free legal assistance from its office in Box Hill and at outreach locations in Hawthorn and Ashburton. ECLC’s next Family Day will be hosted in partnership with the Chinese community at Box Hill on 14 April. Please visit eclc.org.au for further details.