Australian Human Rights Commission head, Gillian Triggs, says elder abuse victims are more likely to seek help from a doctor than a lawyer. President Triggs believes older Australians are increasingly vulnerable to “abuse, violence and manipulation,” highlighting that elderly people were entitled to be treated equally before the law. The President spoke of the first program embedding lawyers within health practices, such as doctors’ and physiotherapists’ offices, specifically to prevent elder abuse.
The health justice partnership is being trialled in Footscray in Melbourne’s west, and is the result of a collaboration between Australia’s largest community health organisation, Cohealth, and the pro-bono legal service Justice Connect, for which Triggs is a patron. The program allows older people who are being abused by their spouse or family members either physically, psychologically or financially to see a lawyer while in the safety of their health practitioner’s office, without their abuser knowing. A pilot program has been running successfully for the past year, which Triggs said had highlighted the need for similar initiatives around the country.
She commended the findings from Australia’s first royal commission into family violence tabled to Victorian parliament last month, but said the findings highlighted how little was known about the prevalence of elder abuse, with estimates that between 5-6% of those aged 65 and over were affected by it. “But the point it made is that elder abuse does differ from other forms of family violence in some ways because of this critical element of trust,” Triggs said. “It’s the trust we put in the people around us, our family and our carers, that makes a particular difference. It is a tragedy to observe how it destroys families.
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