I recently accompanied the daughter of a victim of elder abuse to a meeting with the police. Margaret’s* father had endured a frightening decade of psychological and financial abuse, neglect and perhaps physical abuse at the hands of his daughter (Margaret’s sister) who lived with him.  Margaret’s father was in his 90s, very frail and blind. She told me her sister was very dominant and intimidating, and created a culture of fear within the family and beyond. She had also been abusing and threatening Margaret for most of her life, and making it very difficult for anyone to visit their father towards the end of his life.

Margaret’s father has now sadly passed away, but she’s been working with us to try and get justice for her him. Although Margaret reported some of her concerns to social work while her father was alive, she didn’t formally reported what had happened to the police until two years after her his death. She also spoke to Action on Elder Abuse and sought legal advice as part of her fight for justice for her father.

During the meeting with the police, while they appeared sympathetic, I was surprised at their defensiveness in terms of previous reports to the police about her father. They also asked her “why didn’t you report it at the time?” - a question which was also asked by the various other professionals she had spoken to. While it was worth asking to establish what happened, I couldn’t help feeling that the tone of the conversation was implying there was something suspicious about Margaret’s reasons for waiting so long to formally report (or indeed, her father’s). In Margaret’s case, not only did it take her a long time to recover from her father’s death and the years of anguish they had both experienced, but she was also still terrified of her sister.

The same questions were asked of her father… “Why didn’t he speak up?”… “Why didn’t he tell carers or social workers who came to see him?” The reasons were simple, and unfortunately common amongst many victims of elder abuse. Her father was frightened of both his abuser, and the consequences of reporting – in his case, fear of further abuse, loneliness and fear of concerns about being moved to a care home. He was also embarrassed about admitting that his own daughter could treat him in such an appalling way. We’ll never know the true extent of the case as the gentleman rarely spoke of what happened, but he may also have thought that no one would believe that his own daughter was the perpetrator. 

So how do we support those who don’t, or can’t, speak up? I think a key factor is for care staff, police and other professionals who come into contact with older people to

have the knowledge and confidence to question situations which don’t appear right, and take the necessary steps to pass their concerns on to adult protection/safeguarding teams. However, it’s also vital to ensure that older people and their family have access to the right information and support about what help is available. The Action on Elder Abuse Helpline is therefore a vital lifeline for anyone concerned about elder abuse. There will be often be situations like this where the victim can’t speak up about elder abuse, but we can.


* not her real name