There are more than 5,000 seniors in the Greater Victoria area who may have been victims of abuse. It’s a shameful statistic and one that deserves our attention.
A good start would be to dispel the myths surrounding the issue.
The most dangerous of these myths would have us identify “stranger danger” as the main problem. It’s somehow easier to assume that senior abuse is primarily economic and that the problem rests with dishonest tradesmen, con artists and other outsiders who prey on the elderly. It’s the same sort of fuzzy thinking that for years, had us looking out for strangers as the culprits behind child abuse. The disturbing truth is that the vast majority of abuse for both seniors and children arises from individuals whom they know, love and trust.
That raises the uncomfortable question of why people who are close to seniors might become abusers.
In part, it appears that it’s based on a misconception of seniors as people who have lost the ability to make their own decisions or comprehend what’s going on around them. That infantilizing is insidious, yet it’s propagated even within mainstream media. One well-known series of commercials features two elderly men so befuddled with the world that, they question the day of the week when they see a bank open on a Sunday, for example.
While some seniors do have a loss of cognitive skills, the vast majority do not. They may slow down physically, and they may process information at a slightly different rate, but they do not lose the right to self-determination. When friends, family and loved ones begin to take away the right to make decisions about finances, relationships, diet, travel – the basics of life – the cycle of abuse can begin.
It’s a complex issue, but the answers can’t be found in the the duplication of programs designed to halt child abuse. Seniors are not children or even child-like. Perhaps that realization is the first step to addressing the harm to which some of them are subjected.