Covid-19 pandemic results in decline in reports of elder abuse — Tafta

14 June 2021 - 12:06
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, marked on Tuesday, is set aside by the UN to demonstrate global opposition to the abuse of older people.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, marked on Tuesday, is set aside by the UN to demonstrate global opposition to the abuse of older people.
Image: File photo

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a decline of elder abuse cases being reported because of challenges to access the justice system.

This is according to The Association for the Aged (Tafta), a Durban-based organisation that provides care to the elderly at its many residences, ahead of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on Tuesday.

The day is set aside by the UN to demonstrate global opposition to the abuse of older people.

Tafta has made a plea to the public to speak up against elder abuse, especially when vulnerable older people are subject to abuse from close family members.

“For too long we’ve seen older people in abuse situations silently endure all manners of abuse from family members,” said Tafta CEO Femada Shamam.

As a society we need to step forward and speak on behalf of elders who are as vulnerable as defenceless children in the hands of their perpetrators.
Tafta CEO Femada Shamam

“They either seek to protect these abusers from the wrath of the law, or fear consequences of reporting to authorities, such as the loss of care and family connection. As a society, we need to step forward and speak on behalf of elders who are as vulnerable as defenceless children in the hands of their perpetrators.

“The theme of this year’s commemoration is ‘Access to Justice’, which serves as a reminder of the importance to fully address the needs of older people who may seek recourse.

“Elders who experience these violent situations often face multiple barriers in accessing judicial systems as a result of boundaries of affordability and backlogs in judicial processes, so many cases remain unreported.

“It is imperative that when we see any form of abuse take place, we either intervene personally or contact authorities who will protect the victim from ongoing abuse.”

She said the organisation has noted “even lower numbers of cases being reported as older people have been further challenged to access justice systems during the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“We also realise so many have experienced isolation, stress and depression. On the whole, family wellbeing from caregivers to elders in isolation has been severely impacted.

“While elder abuse can never be condoned, as a preventative measure steps need to be taken to support those caring for complex older people and, if necessary, to find alternative care solutions to protect both parties.

“In instances where vulnerable older people are abused by those whose job it is to look after them, there must be mechanisms for accountability and liability. We’ve seen far too many cases of older people with black eyes or arms covered in bruises after being physically mishandled, sometimes deliberately, by their caregivers,” said Shamam.

She said perpetrators often got way with the abuse “by claiming the elderly person fell or knocked themselves against a doorway or sharp object”.

“Older people do bruise easily and are prone to stumbling and falling. Even if the victim complains, he or she may not be believed. A convincing perpetrator will use the elder’s failing memory as proof they really remember what happened. 

“There are also instances where victims of abuse feel inclined to protect their abusers with whom they have familial connections as they fear the consequences their caregiver may face. This results in many cases of elder abuse going unreported or being withdrawn by the victims.”

Tafta has found apart from emotional and physical abuse, the aged are also subjected to financial abuse.

“In SA and other countries where poverty levels and unemployment are high, many elders are subject to financial abuse. Situations where an elder has his or her pension card stolen, or their bank account emptied by family members, are all too common,” said Shamam.

“This is especially the case where the elder suffers from a condition like Alzheimers or dementia and is unable to understand what is happening. Their possessions may be stolen, or sold without their consent, or they may be tricked into giving away possessions.

“Most heinous of all is sexual abuse, where a vulnerable elder is violated for sexual or erotic gratification without their consent, and sometimes even without their knowledge or understanding.”

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