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Newslines Radio: Elder abuse - time to speak up


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Nathan Ramsay

Janine Haynes, Council of Aboriginal Elders of South Australia executive officer, SA
Louise Herft, Aged Rights Advocacy Service, SA
Wayne Fielding, Elder Abuse Awareness programs manager, VIC

23 Jul 2012

PRESENTER: Hi, I’m Nathan Ramsay and you’re listening to Newslines Radio, a weekly program produced by the Australian Government on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.

Today we will be talking about elder abuse, a shameful act that occurs all over the world. Unfortunately, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are no exception.

HAYNES: Elder abuse is a dog act. Our people understand what a dog act is and that’s what elder abuse is.

PRESENTER: That was Kokatha woman Janine Haynes, the executive officer of the Council of Aboriginal Elders of South Australia.

Working closely with her state’s Aged Rights Advocacy Service, Janine has been spreading the word that elder abuse is not okay.

We will be talking about the success of the Elders Council’s collaboration with Aged Rights, and some of the activities they’ve started to help tackle this problem. But first, Aged Rights’ Aboriginal Advocacy Program team leader Louise Herft will tell us what elder abuse actually is.

HERFT: We define elder abuse as an act that is occurring in a relationship of trust. So an older person being looked after, or supposedly being looked after by family members usually, or even a friend, and that friend or family member taking advantage of that older person, exploiting them, taking their money, physically hurting them, threatening them, psychological abuse is quite high on the list, threatening them that they won’t be able to see their grandchildren for instance, or even depriving them of food and drink so that they become quite medically ill; that’s what we call elder abuse.

PRESENTER: Because elder abuse takes so many forms, sometimes it can be hard for people to identify that it’s actually happening. Wayne Fielding is a Victorian police officer who, in his own time, has developed a series of Elder Abuse Awareness Programs to try and assist those working in aged care to identify the signs of abuse.

He spoke with Newslines while “on the road” in Melbourne.

FIELDING: A lot of my work with Elder Abuse Awareness Programs is done in nursing homes by alerting carers and nursing staff in those environments to what their obligations are under the Aged Care Act and just making them aware of things that they need to be looking out for. With physical abuse there are going to be obvious signs that will be evident on the older person such as bruises and other markings that they will have on them.

There’s a number of other types of abuse, such as neglect, which may not be as obvious and will have different indicators as to what the professional or what other people should be looking at to gauge whether somebody may be being abused.

PRESENTER: Identifying non-physical abuse can be even more difficult, but Janine Haynes says people need to consider when someone’s actions are crossing the line.

HAYNES: As Aboriginal people, there’s a very fine line between giving out money to family members. If we’ve got money we share it, if we’ve got anything we share it, that’s part of our culture. But it’s when people take advantage of that situation and it goes further, perhaps they’re being pressured to provide money or kids are rocking up or grandkids are rocking up on pension day, all that sort of thing.

The one thing I tell people, wherever I go, when we discuss elder abuse is if you are abusing Aboriginal elders you’re abusing your own culture because the elders are the keepers of the culture.

PRESENTER: And Louise Herft, who we heard from earlier, points out that elder abuse doesn’t just mean the abuse of an Aboriginal elder, it refers to abuse of any older person, from any culture.

HERFT: Statistics worldwide show that about one in 20 or one in 25 older people, someone over the age of 75, experiences a form of abuse in their lifetime. In Aboriginal communities it’s not any different.

PRESENTER: Recent years have also seen the beginning of online elder abuse through social networks like Facebook, something Louise says is very confusing for older people.

HERFT: We are dealing with a population of Aboriginal elders who don’t often even have access to the internet, who don’t own computers, who don’t use computers, and have been informed that their own relatives, their own younger people in their communities, people who should be respecting them and treating them with great honour, have been verbally, well on Facebook, being very, very abusive of them. To someone who doesn’t understand the technology even of Facebook, this was a really big shock to the elders concerned.

We were able to talk to them about how it could be removed from Facebook, how the police could help if it was a case of defamation, how legal services could help if it was a case of defamation, and tell them what their rights were around these issues. For an older person in their 80s, to be defamed in front of their entire community is a terrible, terrible thing to have to put up with. This is the world that these elders now live in.

PRESENTER: Hi, I’m Nathan Ramsay and you’re listening to Newslines Radio.

Today we’ve been talking about elder abuse, a shameful act that occurs when an older person is physically, verbally, financially or emotionally abused by someone they trust.

It is something that happens all over the world, including in our own Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. So if you’re an elder who has been abused, or you know someone who has suffered elder abuse, what should you do? Janine Haynes, of the Council of Aboriginal Elders of South Australia, says the most important first step is to speak up.

HAYNES: The first thing is that you need to start talking. You need to stop sweeping it under the carpet. We know it happens. People are embarrassed, it’s a shame job. They don’t like to talk about it but we know that it’s happening. What people have to realise, particularly the victims of the abuse, is that it’s not your fault. It’s the behaviour of the perpetrators that has to be looked at and that has to be changed.

PRESENTER: Wayne Fielding from the Victorian Police is also a proud advocate of speaking up about elder abuse.

FIELDING: All too often my experience finds that a lot of professional people, carers, nurses and similar people like that, have their suspicions but they don’t tell anybody and that’s the real danger of this. If they’re not telling somebody, this abuse can be ongoing and it really needs to be stamped out quickly.

The best advice that I can give is know what the indicators of all the forms of abuse are, whether it’s financial, whether it’s neglect, whether it’s psychological or whether it’s physical abuse, know what the indicators are and keep an eye on it and monitor it and then if they get the slightest suspicion that something like this is happening, pass that information on to a co-worker, a supervisor and formulate a plan as to how we can stop it from continuing.

PRESENTER: In South Australia the Council of Aboriginal Elders and the Aged Rights Advocacy Service have been holding regular meetings with elders and service providers to raise awareness of elder abuse and encourage the older people to seek help when they need it. Louise Herft from Aged Rights says the organisations have also been combining their efforts on a prevention campaign.

HERFT: In the past the Council of Elders and the Aged Rights Advocacy Service have worked on radio advertisements for elder abuse and we’re going to use some of that old material as well as new material to talk about people’s rights as older people, to protect their finances, to protect their property, to be safe from harm and to be cared for properly in their old age. I think that will be one of the key strategies to restore respect to elders.

We have taken that a step further with a mentoring camp for young people up in the desert near Coober Pedy at a place called 10 Mile Creek, where elders from all over the state will converge with some young people from all over the state, Aboriginal youth, for three or four days of a camp where they can learn culture, learn respect from traditional elders and elders from all over the state, spirituality and all those things that young people need to know about to affirm their place in their culture.

I think if the community got together and if the elders stood up and said, “We are the elders of this community, we are the keepers of the culture and we will not be abused. We have a right to be safe from harm, we have a right to be respected and treated with respect and be cared for properly in our old age”, I think that would be a really, really good thing.

PRESENTER: According to the Council of Aboriginal Elders’ Janine Haynes, reconnecting with culture is one of the keys to preventing elder abuse.

HAYNES: It’s surprising how kids yearn for something of belonging in themselves and quite often problems that they have are because they don’t know where they belong.

PRESENTER: Whether it’s happening in your family or within your wider community, elder abuse is something that should not be tolerated. People can feel shame and not want to admit that such a horrible act could happen to them or someone they know, but as everyone we’ve talked to today has said, the most important thing to do is speak up.

The Australian Government provides free and confidential advocacy services for elders suffering abuse through the National Aged Care Advocacy Program.

To find out more about this service, and others in your area, visit our website You can read our Indigenous Newslines magazine there and friend us on Facebook.

I’m Nathan Ramsay, thanks for listening to Newslines Radio. Stay deadly.

Find out more

The Australian Government provides free and confidential advocacy services for elders suffering abuse through the National Aged Care Advocacy Program. Agencies are located in every state and territory.

The Council of Aboriginal Elders of South Australia works with the Aged Rights Advocacy Service to offer specific Aboriginal advocacy services for elders in South Australia.

The Australian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse has also been established to help tackle the problem on a national level.

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